The morning of Game 3 in the Eastern Conference Quarter finals was greeted by a picture perfect spring day. To complement the weather, The Massapequa Chiefs nine year old travel baseball team had just upset Bayside in round one of the playoffs. My brand new Gibson SG had arrived via special delivery the day before. All seemed to be in place for the NY Islanders to continue the momentum they established in Game 2 and take a lead in this best of seven series. The planets were aligned. Life, for the moment, was really good. And let’s be honest Islander fans, is there anything better than playoff hockey at the Coliseum? Is anyone besides me old enough to remember?
The first period began with the old barn in Uniondale rocking to its foundations. The sold out crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Islanders” non-stop and their beloved team rewarded their enthusiasm almost immediately when Matt Moulson opened the scoring with his second of the playoffs just 1:23 into the contest. Lubimor Visnovsky neatly fed the puck toward the net and after Okposo jammed at it, Moulson finally rammed it in between the left post and pads of Marc Andre Fleury. Islanders 1, Penguins 0. (By the way, isn’t it ironic that Okposo got into his first ever fight in Game 2 despite his initials being KO?). The Coliseum nearly became unhinged. The Islanders furious pace continued and Casey Cizikas quickly scored his first career playoff goal at the 14:19 mark following a nice feed from Michael Grabner. Life was good. The planets were truly aligned. I was tempted to plug in my SG and celebrate.
But the euphoria would be short lived. Galactic harmony was suddenly in jeopardy. Game 2 within Game 3 was about to begin. The “new” game began when Pittsburgh was awarded a 5-on-3 power play at the 12:55 mark. OK. 5-on-3 is almost a guaranteed goal scoring situation, especially with the firepower Pittsburgh possesses. I know that. And sure enough, Jarome Iginla scored almost immediately, redirecting a Kris Letang shot on net. The problem was that the Penguins still had nearly 1:30 of power play time left, and just seconds – literally seconds later – Chris Kunitz scored to tie the game up at 2. Two power play goals scored 19 seconds apart. Yikes. OK. Deep breaths. This was to be expected right? But just the same, where are my Tums? Let’s just get out of the first tied up and regroup for the second. No such luck. Late in the period, Sidney Crosby controlled a sweet bank pass off the left boards, streaked up right wing, and beautifully fed Pascal Dupuis at the doorstep for his 3rd of the playoffs. Penguins 3, Islanders 2 at the end of the first. It really did seem like two separate games within one period. Unfortunately, the Islanders, despite outshooting Pitt 13-8, needed to be reminded that a full 20 minutes of play is the requirement for each period.
Despite the Islanders coming out with a relatively high energy level to open the second period, the session was mostly a whole lot of nothing…a whole lot of going back and forth with nothing of vital importance happening. Maybe the Coliseum organist should have banged out a stirring version of Whole Lotta Rosie to get things going again. Anyway, no meaningful scoring chances, nothing to get particularly excited about except for the Penguins remaining scoreless deep into the period. By the way, quick sidebar here. Does anyone out there think that Brian Engblom -or Pierre McGuire for that matter- brings anything to the table (or ice as it were) with NBC’s ridiculous Inside the Glass segments? And does anyone out there, I mean anyone, find those Sonic Restaurant commercials even remotely amusing? And can anyone tell me where on Long Island there even is a Sonic Restaurant? Does anyone care? Sorry for the digression but I did say that there was a whole of nothing going on. Back to hockey. The Islanders desperately need the BBT line to come alive (Boyes-Bailey-Tavares). They need to contain the CDK line of Pittsburgh (Crosby-Dupuis-Kunitz). If both of those things happen, I can keep hope alive and ensure my supply of Tums won’t run out before the end of the game. Let’s just get out of the second down by 1 or, dare I say it, tied or even up by a goal or two. No such luck. Doug Murray scores at the 2:50 mark thanks to a pretty Evgeni Malkin assist to put the Penguins up 4-2, a score that stands at the end of two. The question is, do I have time to run out for a fresh supply of antacids before the third starts?
The third period begins and the Islanders controlled the flow for the most part, keeping the puck in the Penguin zone and applying a modest degree of pressure on Fleury. Unfortunately Mark Streit gets called for hooking Crosby behind the Islander net and the Penguins go on yet another power play. Uh-oh. But lo and behold. Frans Nielsen springs Okposo in on Fleury shorthanded and Kyle beats him through the five-hole. The Islanders are now within one at 14:29. We need Nabokov to keep the Islanders in this. We need to call upon the spirits of 1975. And they answer at the 9:12 mark when John Tavares gets his long awaited first career playoff goal and ties it up at 4. The Coliseum erupts. The crowd is now taunting Fleury, chanting his name over and over. The game appears to be heading into overtime when Doug Murray dings one off the left post with just over one minute to go in regulation, the ringing sound loud and clear despite the noisy mayhem reverberating throughout the building. The color drains from my face but the Islanders remain very much alive. Tums be damned we are heading to overtime!
Both teams seemed a bit tentative at the start of the overtime session, knowing full well what is meant by sudden death. But the pace picked up midway through, and it began to get downright feisty. And just as I was thinking that it would take nothing short of a felony for a penalty to be called, Brian Strait of the Islanders got called for holding Crosby at 11:49. Sure enough, and fittingly, Chris Kunitz ended it with his second goal of the game at 8:44. Fitting that it was the power play that got things going for the Penguins in the first period, and it was the power play that eventually won the game. A gritty game was played by the Islanders, but once again they are faced with a must win situation entering Game 4. How deep can this upstart team dig? Only time will tell.