In many ways, Game 1 and Game 2 of the Penguins/Islanders series were almost carbon copies of one another, for a significant time at least.
Consider that both games had:
- The Penguins jump out the game with the stronger start, dominating shot events and scoring chances in the game’s first five to ten minutes
- The Pens having a 2-0 power play advantage by the first 30 minutes of the game
- Pittsburgh failing to score on either power play
- The Islanders taking advantage of a shift in momentum, in part due to their penalty kill, and playied a lot better in the second period then they did in the first
- The Pens having a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard after 40 minutes
There were some key differences in how each game played out, no two games are exactly alike. Importantly, in Game 1, the Islanders weathered the early storm that the Pens unleashed on them, and NYI scored the all-important first goal of the game 7:58 into the contest. In Game 2, it was Bryan Rust who popped in a shot 3:22, to set the tone for Pittsburgh and put the Pens out front.
The other massive difference is the part yet unmentioned, is how the games took different paths in the third period. While the score was 2-1 Pens in both games to start the third frame, in Game 1, NYI scored just 3:33 in to tie the game and then dominated the period (to a tune of a 13-6 shot edge) and also pulled in front 3-2 with less than five minutes later. Pittsburgh would respond to force overtime, but NYI put their stamp on the game in the third.
The biggest difference between the two matchups has been the third. In Game 2, the Islanders again made a strong push to tie the game, but that goal never came, and the Pens held on for a 2-1 win. Pittsburgh also outshot NYI 16-10 in the third.
Clearly, Tristan Jarry was much stronger in Game 2, making all the stops in the third period. NYI could never find a way to tie the game before the clock hit 0:00. Pittsburgh’s defensive structure was better in the third period of Game 2 than it was in Game 1. But, more significantly, Pittsburgh also counter-punched much better (via Natural Stat Trick):
Third period breakdown of Pens-Isles series
|All situtations||Game 1||Game 2|
|All situtations||Game 1||Game 2|
|Corsi Events||17-9 NYI||27-17 PIT|
|Scoring Chances||6-4 NYI||10-5 PIT|
|High Danger Score Chances||2-0 NYI||3-2 PIT|
|xGF||.7 - .17 NYI||.77 - .53 PIT|
The Islanders had statistically a mirror image of the same numbers in the third period of both games (an equal 17 Corsi attempts, 5 or 6 scoring chances, 2 HD chances and a .53 or .70 xGF). Jarry allowing no goals was huge, but the big difference was the uptick in what the Pens were able to do. In Game 1, they produced almost nothing. In Game 2, they went from 9 Corsi attempts to 27 and had a much better xGF.
If not for a couple of massive Semyon Varlamov saves in the third, the Pens would have earned an extra goal and some more breathing room for the finish. That wasn’t to be, and the game went down to the wire, but the process was much better.
“I thought we competed hard,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the game. “I really liked the third period in particular. We played on our toes and defended well.”
Overall, the tone of the series has been set. Some of it positive for Pittsburgh, other aspects are in need of attention. The clear point is the power play, with the Pens 0-for-5 on the series to date and failing to make their opportunities count.
The series will change for Game 3. There are many reasons to believe the game tomorrow will not unfold as closely as the first two games have.
Why will these trends be different? There is a shift in venue to consider as the series moves to Long Island for the first time. Perhaps this will feed NYI to a stronger start of the game on the momentum of playing in front of their fans with a different energy to feed on than what was in the building so far. A bigger factor will be that Barry Trotz and the Islanders will have last change and be able to get more of the matchups they want on a consistent basis to start shifts.
Game 3 will be a different challenge and likely break the mold of how incredibly similar the first two games have unfolded. However, the teams still have the same strengths and weaknesses and their styles will be the same, likely leading to more tight third periods in the near future, especially if the results of special teams play continue to not show up on the scoreboard.
In a tight playoff game, it comes down to performance in the third period. New York had it in Game 1, Pittsburgh had it in Game 2. Unsurprisingly, that is who ended up winning each of the respective games to start this series. Execution throughout a playoff game is key, but it’s clear that the outcome of a closely-played game will come down to the final minutes as both teams attempt to push forward.