It may have taken until Game 4 of the first-round series against the Penguins, but the Islanders rediscovered their brand of hockey.
With a 4-1 victory at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, the Islanders showed the grip they can have on a game when they’re playing to their strengths. They were heavy in all areas of the ice, suffocating along the boards and in control of their rushes.
The Islanders’ signature style of play came through just in time to even up the series, 2-2, heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Monday night.
Carrying a 2-0 lead into the third period, the Islanders never faltered. Even when defenseman Scott Mayfield was questionably called for holding Penguins star Sidney Crosby just over four minutes in, they continued to battle along the boards, and Adam Pelech drew a tripping penalty to negate the Pittsburgh power play.
The Penguins began to lose their heads, as Kris Letang took an interference penalty to give the Islanders the four-on-three advantage. Oliver Wahlstrom’s shot trickled into the crease, and Penguins center Teddy Blueger tapped it in, putting the Islanders ahead 4-0.
After two shaky outings from the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov in Games 2 and 3, head coach Barry Trotz opted to go back to rookie Ilya Sorokin, who started in the series-opening victory when Varlamov was held out for precautionary reasons.
Sorokin, who finished with 29 saves, came up big early in the second period with a save on Crosby to keep the game scoreless. Shortly after, Brock Nelson found Josh Bailey in the left faceoff circle for the quick shot that beat Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry for the 1-0 lead at 8:07.
In stark contrast with the first three games of the series, the Isles didn’t let up immediately after scoring. They protected their lead. In fact, they built on it. Wahlstrom’s shot rebounded right to the stick of Ryan Pulock, who ripped the puck back in, deflected off the skate of Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci to double the score.
The Islanders had their most complete first period of the series, battling along the boards and generating chances on the rush. Sorokin was welcomed to the fray less than a minute in, but he came up with a pad save on Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen.
As expected, the fracas from Thursday’s third period poured into Game 4 almost immediately. Cal Clutterbuck and Evgeni Malkin exchanged shoves in front of Pittsburgh’s bench, which led to four-on-four play.
It preceded one of the Isles’ most dangerous chances of the period. Brock Nelson forced a turnover and carried it in before dropping the puck back between his legs to Anthony Beauvillier, who shot it wide.