Mike Sullivan saw another horror story play out before his eyes on the ice. His team was playing better than the Islanders, as they have in three of four meetings this season. The Penguins scored three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead into the third period.
Then the all too familiar recent story of Pens/Islanders played out. Hudson Fasching scored with 5:31 left to bring New York within a goal. Pittsburgh waved goodbye to a win with only 1:15 remaining in regulation when Anders Lee did what Anders Lee does and scored a big goal against the Pens.
All that was missing was a Brock Nelson sighting, and oh yeah, we got that in overtime on a breakaway. If you didn’t realize what was about to happen, you haven’t paid close enough attention to these teams this year.
Just like that, and for the third time in just 21 days, the Islanders defeat the Pens in a game Pittsburgh was winning in the third period.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Sullivan said after the game. “It stings. I feel bad for the players because I thought for the majority of the game we were the better team.”
To that end, Sullivan was largely correct — though the devils is always in the details.
Penguins dominated 5 on 5 tonight.— Jonathan Bombulie (@BombulieTrib) March 10, 2023
Scoring chances: 26-10
High-danger chances: 13-4
Special teams and goaltending are always the X factors, and the Penguins have been somewhere between mediocre and awful in those areas most of this season.
Ahh, yes, “special teams” and “goaltending”, always the swing in Pens/Islanders. The Pittsburgh power play went 0-for-3. They haven’t scored a goal when the opponents have had four penalty killers on the ice in recent memory. The Islanders scored on a power play.
The goaltending difference is usually as stark. In key moments, Ilya Sorokin can be counted on to make a big stop. Pittsburgh was able to touch him up for three goals, but their defense and Tristan Jarry keeping two or fewer pucks out of the net is almost always a bridge too far.
No team knows how to confound the Pens quite like the Islanders. Nelson and Lee combined for 12 total goals in the four games of the season series. That’s not Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but when they play against Pittsburgh they might as well be. NYI didn’t even need the Ghost of Jordan Eberle to pop up and haunt their division rivals with performances like that.
Leave it to the indomitable Jason Zucker (who scored again tonight, as he so often has lately) to have the last word.
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got huge games this weekend. We’ve got a ton of huge games down the stretch here that are division games, conference games, all of the above. We’ve gotta be better. We gotta be able to push here.”
Luckily for them, they won’t have to see Nelson, Lee and Sorokin for at least another seven months. And it still won’t feel like long enough after the way these last three weeks have gone.