The Islanders look to wrap things up in front of their fans in Game 6 of this intense series.
The New York Islanders are coming off the unlikeliest of wins.
They played some of the worst hockey they’ve played this season in Game 5, but were carried by their goaltender, Ilya Sorokin, and were able to take advantage of a few mistakes by the Pittsburgh Penguins to get the win in double overtime.
The Islanders have been bailed out by goaltending on both sides in this series. Sorokin has been phenomenal for them and Tristan Jarry has been quite the opposite for the Penguins, giving the Islanders the advantage.
In the third period of Game 5, rookie Oliver Wahlstrom went down after an ugly hit and had to be helped off the ice. Head coach Barry Trotz later revealed that he is day-to-day, but Wahlstrom clearly wasn’t ready to go on Wednesday.
Travis Zajac would take his place in the lineup, making his Islanders playoff debut and playing in his first game since May 8th.
1st period: Pretty even
The Islanders looked better than they did in Game 5, but not as good as they should to begin Game 6. They gave up an early goal to the ever-dangerous Jeff Carter, the Penguins’ first shot of the game. However, the Islanders answered back almost instantly.
Anthony Beauvillier continues to be clutch and tied things up for his team with a beautiful backhander. The second line is still the Islanders’ best right now.
A cross-checking call against Scott Mayfield gave the Penguins a chance on the man-advantage and they converted for the second-straight game. Fortunately, once again, the Islanders evened things up shortly after.
A great pass by Jean-Gabriel Pageau and a disastrous rebound off Jarry allowed Kyle Palmieri to score his third of the series. Both game-tying goals came less than two minutes after each Penguins goal.
Zajac made his presence known almost immediately with an incredible defensive play. Kasperi Kapanen had an open net, but Zajac got his stick in the way to save a goal.
The Islanders got off to a bad start, but this ended up being a pretty even period. The Penguins suffered from poor goaltending and committed too many turnovers.
The Islanders saw some improvements in their game such as very good forechecking and moving the puck well out of their own zone, two aspects that were issues for them in Game 5.
2nd period: Keep the heat
The Penguins took the lead once again early in the period, but the Islanders scored and didn’t look back.
The first goal came off the stick of Brock Nelson as a result of fantastic passing by Beauvillier and Josh Bailey.
Seconds later, Ryan Pulock scored a goal to give the Islanders their first lead of the game. Pulock, who scored just two goals during the regular season, now has two in the playoffs.
Zajac continues to make his presence known, recording a secondary assist on the goal.
The dangerous second line came back with some more great scoring chances that ended with another Nelson goal. Once again, it all started with Beauvillier. This marked three goals in 2:59 for the Islanders.
A wild sequence of events ensued, involving back-to-back breakaways. Nelson had a chance to score a hat-trick, but missed wide.
That turned into a chance for Evgeni Malkin, but Sorokin made a great left pad save that prompted a chant from the crowd. Props to Nick Leddy, too, who worked hard to stay on Malkin and make Sorokin’s job a little easier.
3rd period: They’re moving on!
The third period wasn’t particularly eventful and it’s a little shocking that they weren’t able to score once the Penguins emptied the net, but the Islanders did what they had to do and will be moving on.
They struggled against the Penguins during the regular season, but showed how and why the playoffs are a different animal.
The Islanders did luck into some truly awful goaltending on the part of the Penguins and they might not have advanced if Pittsburgh had been better in net, but they did a lot of things well and are fully capable of sending the Boston Bruins home in the next round, too.
Key Moment: Save by Zajac
It might not be the most obvious choice for key moment, especially with all the goals that the Islanders scored, but Zajac’s goal-saving play takes the cake.
Had he not made that play, Kapanen would have scored and who knows what would have ensued.
Would the Penguins have built momentum and kept scoring? Would Jarry have been able to shake off the first two goals and get into a rhythm to prevent the Islanders from scoring thereafter?
We’ll never know, but what we do know is that Zajac’s play was huge and he really showed his strength as a good two-way forward here.
Player of the game: Brock Nelson
For the second-straight game, a member of the Islanders’ second line is the player of the night. Brock Nelson was elite and should’ve even had a hat-trick, if we’re being honest.
Nelson was involved in a whopping three goals and was crucial to his team’s success. He showed why he’s so important to the Islanders and what he’s capable of doing when he’s at his best.
Nelson’s numbers: 19:21 TOI, 2 G, 1 A, 40 CF%, 2.84 GF, 0 GA, 4.50 Game Score, 1.39 defensive rating, 0.96 offensive rating, and 2.2 individual rating.
Stats are courtesy of Hockey Stat Cards and Natural Stat Trick.