The New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins just wrapped up the most exciting Islanders’ playoff series since the Islanders and the Maple Leafs went seven games in 2002. The series was physical, even nasty at times. There were a ton of goals scored. There was plenty of drama. The heavily-favorited Pittsburgh Penguins were given more than just a run for their money against one of the biggest underdogs in years.
The loss, though…it stings. There will be no more Islanders’ hockey until October. The Nassau Coliseum will be mostly unoccupied through the summer, but we will all be ready to rock the barn once again when the 2013-14 season begins.
October will mark the start of what should be a very exciting season, as the Isles will expect to pick up right where they left off. Finally, the Islanders will begin the season with a good starting point. Finally, the Islanders will begin a season with some respect, largely due to their performance against the Penguins. The Islanders have a lot to be proud of, a lot to build off of, and a lot to gauge based off of this series alone.
Let’s take one look at the Isles-Penguins Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series before we close the chapter, and prepare for next year. Let’s breakdown this series, and re-visit some of the top Islanders’ moments from the Isles-Pens playoff match-up.
Keys to the Islanders’ Loss
One of the keys to this series was goaltending. Going into it, we knew Evgeni Nabokov needed to stand on his head. We also knew that the Isles could score on Pittsburgh’s starting goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Through the first four games, the series proved to be a shootout. The Isles would score 14 goals through four games and the Pens would score 17 goals through four games. Both Nabby and Fleury were playing below-average, but unlike the Islanders, the Penguins had the luxury of turning to a back-up goalie who would be a starter on many other NHL teams.
Pittsburgh would start Tomas Vokoun for the final two games of this series, and that would prove to be all the difference. Vokoun would earn a shutout in Game Five, and keep the Isles under four goals in Game Six.
Nabokov wouldn’t bail the Isles out of many mistakes. Pittsburgh won the goaltending battle, especially over the final two games.
2) Special Teams
Special teams were expected to play a huge part in the Isles first playoff match-up since 2007. Pittsburgh had a powerful power-play and poor penalty-kill during the regular season, while the Isles’ power-play was above average and their penalty-kill below average.
Well, the Isles special teams’ units let them down. The power-play unit went 2-for-20, while the penalty-kill allowed 7 goals on 21 chances. The Isles did a nice job in killing 7 of their final 8 penalties, but the damage was done, especially in Game Three, where the Islanders allowed two early power-play goals to erase an early 2-0 lead.
The Isles’ power-play never came up big in a big moment. It’s something the Isles have to work on for next season.
3) Andrew MacDonald’s Injury
The Isles went 0-2 after losing Andrew MacDonald to injury, but can you blame them? A-Mac was a top-4 defenseman playing top minutes for the Islanders’ defensive unit.
Before he was injured, he and his defensive partner Travis Hamonic were on the ice for just four even-strength goals through four games. After the injury, Hammer would be on the ice for five more goals through two games during 5-on-5 play.
I also have to mention that A-Mac finished the series with 14 blocked shots, the most out of any Islanders’ player. Hamonic finished second with 10 blocked shots. It’s hard to find a player like MacDonald, and the Islanders’ suffered for it.
What Went Well For The Islanders?
1) Limited Mistakes
The Pittsburgh Penguins have all the talent in the world. The Islanders would have to limit their mistakes if they wanted a chance. They did, and it’s a big reason to why the Islanders forced six games.
In the Islanders’ two victories, they were only credited with 10 giveaways. Pittsburgh was credited with 23. Overall, the Isles gave the puck up 37 times to Pittsburgh’s 51 giveaways. The Islanders were better with the puck in this series, but the Penguins had the talent to hurt you on just one mistake.
2) Physical Play
The Isles played more physical than I could have ever imagined. Not only did Matt Martin reach double digit totals twice, but I watched him drill Sidney Crosby a couple of times during this series.
I also watched Travis Hamonic dump Crosby and Malkin. I watched Keith Aucoin hit Malkin in the corner, and I watched Grabner dump Malkin in open ice. Eight guys reached double digits in hits’ totals (Martin had 41, wow).
The Islanders battled hard this series. They proved to be up to any physical challenge.
3) The Coliseum
For the first time since the glory days, the Nassau Coliseum was in the spotlight for all of the right reasons. The Barn was rocking. Fans showed up and created one of the best all-time atmospheres for hockey. Perhaps players will want to come play.
Top Moments – Countdown
5) The End of Game Six
I know we lost, but the Islanders had a heck of a run. While we watched Penguins’ fans file out of their building during blowout wins, Isles’ fans stayed until after the handshake to cheer their team on. People who think Isles’ fans are “bandwagon” fans are idiots. We may act like impatient fools at times, but Islanders’ fans are some of the best in the world. They truly love their team, and they showed it throughout this series.
4) Travis Hamonic Dumping Evgeni Malkin in Game Three
Well, that was a lot of fun to watch. Evgeni Malkin got into a shoving match with Hamonic in the Islanders’ defensive zone. With play still going on, Hammer shoved Malkin, knocking him off balance, and then again for good measure, sending him to the ice. Hammer got under Malkin’s skin. By Game Six, Malkin was only on the ice when Hammer was off of it.
2) Kyle Okposo’s fight with Matt Niskanen in Game Two
Kyle Okposo never fought in over 300 career NHL games. In his second postseason game, he dropped the gloves. Unfortunately for Matt Niskanen, Okposo has bricks for hands and those bricks landed. Niskanen was cut open, and the Islanders would storm back from a 2-0 deficit to win the game 4-3. The fight will go down in Islanders’ playoff history, and may go down as the moment where the Islanders their respect from the NHL and its fans.
1) John Tavares’ GWG in Game Five, Followed By Casey Cizikas’s Clinching Goal
Never have I heard the Barn so loud. I think Tavares’ game-winning goal brought about louder cheers than the Shawn Bates penalty shot goal in 2002. The Coliseum was deafening. From cheers to “MVP” chants, Isles’ fans saw their first home playoff victory since the game Shawn Bates made famous. Cizikas tied the game with a soft goal past Fleury, and it was just chills after that.
Thanks for reading! What Were Your Thoughts On The Series?
About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants