Had it not been for an early second-period penalty, the second half of Saturday night’s game might’ve been a different story for the New York Islanders.
But the Islanders still remained up a goal on the Pittsburgh Penguins heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation. A mistake in the opening seconds of the third period changed the complexion of the game, however.
It was Jarred McCann’s goal on the rush 18 seconds in the third that tied the game, one which Pittsburgh would later win in overtime, 4-3.
18 seconds into the 3rd period and Jared McCann is already making the Islanders pay! pic.twitter.com/l2XopdgstM
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 28, 2021
“You never know how the game turns and all that,” Barry Trotz said after the game. “We had opportunities in the second to pull away a little bit and we weren’t able to. You just stick with it. You just collect points, and at the end of the day, you hope you have enough.”
How exactly did things fall apart less than half a minute into the third? Especially when the Islanders won the faceoff and got the puck into deep into the Pittsburgh zone, one would think that’s an ideal way to get the frame going.
But as the puck rounded the back wall into the far-side boards, Adam Pelech came a little too far down the left point and was pinching in. As John Marino flung the puck into the neutral zone, Pelech whiffed on the puck and lost his balance trying to keep step with Evgeni Malkin.
Just that slight misstep was enough to let Malkin and McCann spring loose on a 2-on-1 chance. Ryan Pulock and Jordan Eberle had little chance to stop the Pittsburgh duo on the rush. Malkin took the puck along the right wing and fed McCann alone in the slot, and scored his third goal of the year.
And while you can point to the two goals in quick succession in the second period as game-changers, the goal in the third genuinely seemed to swing momentum to Pittsburgh. During 5-on-5 play in the first 40 minutes, the Islanders dominated puck possession and chances generated.
In the third? Well, the tables were turned. The Penguins held a 63.63 Corsi For percentage in the third and were over 65 percent in all situations. The Islanders produced an impressive seven high danger chances in the second at 5-on-5 but were held to three while allowing four in the third period.
“It’s a battle in this division, I don’t think you get any nights off,” Trotz said. “It is a playoff feel every night and I have a lot of respect for the players.”
The game clearly swung Pittsburgh’s way and it led to the eventual game-winning tally from Kris Letang in overtime. It’s been a frustrating 1-2-2 stretch for the Islanders against Pittsburgh.
Added Trotz: “We’ll just get back at it tomorrow and see if we get two [points].”