With nine days to stew since Max Talbot’s questionable hit on Blake Comeau, Brent Johnson’s face-shattering punch on Rick DiPietro and an embarrassing 3-0 shutout loss in Pittsburgh last week, the Islanders hinted at retribution.
But there was no subtlety in Friday night’s slugfest at Nassau Coliseum.
Humiliating the Penguins with a startling 9-3 rout was not enough for the Islanders. Instead, they dished out beatings to nearly every player in white, with call-up Micheal Haley single-handedly taking on the two Most Wanted. Both teams combined for a franchise record-setting 346 penalty minutes and the tension was so thick that an iron-grate fence was used to divide both ends of the hallway after the game.
"There was a little history between the two teams. We wanted to make sure that we took care of what we needed to take care of," Matt Martin said. "It was an emotional game and that's how it played out."
Ten players total — five for both teams — were thrown out with game misconducts and Haley is facing a lengthy suspension after his fisticuffs.
"I'm sure on both sides there will be something," coach Jack Capuano said when asked whether he expects supplementary discipline from the league.
Haley, who leads the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers with 144 penalty minutes, was summoned for the fight-filled contest and he lived up to his reputation. After taking down Talbot in a third-period scrap, Haley decided his night wasn’t done. Instead of leaving the ice, Haley skated to the Penguins end and tangled with Johnson, who was pulled in the second period and then sent back in for Marc-Andre Fleury to begin the third.
Penguins enforcer Eric Godard jumped the bench to intervene, but not before Haley descended on the Penguins backup. Haley received an instigator penalty, two fighting majors and two game misconducts in the sequence, which culminated with the 12,888 fans in attendance chanting his name.
"Emotions took over," Haley said. "Honestly, right now it's just a blur."
"He comes right up here and falls right into our family," Zenon Konopka said of Haley. "Cousin Haley comes up and jumps right in and everyone follows suit."
The Islanders revenge mission against the Penguins was apparent early.
Even after a 6-0 lead early in the second period and Johnson yanked, the Islanders were not satisfied.
For all the undertones and innuendo that surrounded the team’s first meeting since Comeau suffered a concussion and DiPietro was sidelined with facial fractures/knee swelling, there was no question about Matt Martin’s intent as he jumped Talbot from behind and tried to force him into a fight at 5:21 of the second period.
Martin, who is also likely to be suspended, grabbed Talbot and tried punching him despite Talbot’s refusal to engage.
That sparked a brawl between the teams that resulted in three players from each side slapped with game misconducts. Travis Hamonic squared off against Mike Rupp and unlikely pugilist Josh Bailey dropped the gloves against Pascal Dupuis, with all four players tossed.
It was a goalfest for the Islanders as well. Matt Moulson (two goals, one assist) Hamonic (one goal, two assists) and Michael Grabner (two goals, one assist) had three points apiece while John Tavares chipped in four (one goal, three assists).
"It felt good to put a lot by [Johnson]," Moulson said. "Hopefully Ricky got a little satisfaction from it."
The Islanders went to work early on Johnson, whose monster left hook last week likely felled DiPietro for the remainder of the season.
Hamonic one-timed a deflected shot to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 8:51. Jesse Joensuu beat a screened Johnson at 12:52 and PA Parenteau tallied on the Islanders sole power play of the period at 17:48. To cap the four-goal splurge on Johnson, Grabner scored his 20th of the season.
Tavares redirected a shot at 3:16 second period. Just like Grabner and Tavares, however, Moulson wasn’t content with sitting one-goal shy of the 20-goal benchmark.
Moulson tallied twice in the second period to reach 21 goals on the season. Haley also scored his first NHL goal at 3:46.
Haley’s sudden arrival seemed to be a concrete indication of what type of game the Islanders expected.
But with Haley leading the Sound Tigers in goals (12), Capuano said that the might of his fists was not the sole point of his promotion.
Haley wasn’t on the team last Wednesday when the bad blood began to curdle, but he did his homework.
“I know what happened,” he said before the game.
Haley, Trevor Gillies, Bailey, Martin and Hamonic were all given game misconducts for the Islanders. Deryk Engelland, Pascal Dupuis, Rupp, Craig Adams and Godard all left the game for the Penguins.
By the end of the game there was barely anyone left on both benches. The coaches and training staff members for each team seemed to outnumber the players.
"This team is kind of sick of being pushed around all the time," Martin said. "I think we made a statement out there tonight, that we're not a laughing stock. We can take care of ourselves."