The final 20 minutes were wild enough for three periods with five combined goals and two sustained scrums along with the other physical play. The larger crowd at Nassau Coliseum grew increasingly loud with the Islanders trying to complete their rally.
But the Islanders could never grab the lead — a theme now throughout this first-round series — and the final twist belonged to the Penguins as Brandon Tanev swatted in a puck at the crease with just 3:36 left in regulation to cap a 5-4 win in Thursday night’s Game 3 before a sell-out crowd of 6,800 at Nassau Coliseum. That was up from the 1,400 in the building since March 18.
The Penguins took a 2-1 series lead with Game 4, a must-have for the Islanders, on Saturday afternoon.
"They have a high execution rate," coach Barry Trotz said. "At the same time, we scored four goals, we’ve got to come up with a win. That should be a lock for us. We’re chasing the game, so, it opened up."
Tanev’s goal came two minutes, seven seconds after Cal Clutterbuck’s second goal of the third period tied the game at 4 as he got to the crease and deflected Scott Mayfield’s initial shot. Clutterbuck had also cleaned up in front of the crease, again off Mayfield’s initial shot, to bring the Islanders within 3-2 at 3:46.
"No one’s hanging their head or getting frustrated," Mathew Barzal said. "The good thing about the playoffs is you turn the page and it’s on to the next one."
That might not be true for Semyon Varlamov, who made 22 saves in his second straight start and let in a questionable, early goal, as he also did in a 2-1 loss in Game 2 in Pittsburgh despite 43 saves.
Trotz gave a tepid response when asked about Varlamov’s Game 3 performance and will consider whether to switch back to rookie Ilya Sorokin, who made 39 saves in a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1.
"I’ll have to look at it again," Trotz said. "Sometimes, your first reaction might not be favorable. We’ll look at all the chances and the goals and see what we could have done."
Tristan Jarry stopped 26 shots for the Penguins, though he was again vulnerable to shots over his glove.
The Islanders first tied the game at 3 on Anthony Beauvillier’s power-play goal at the right post at 5:54 of the third period. This came 19 seconds after a scrum at the Penguins’ crease placed 10 players — Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mayfield, Oliver Wahlstrom, Nick Leddy and Cal Clutterbuck for the Islanders and Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin and Sidney Crosby for Penguins — in the penalty box for minors, with Guentzel getting a double-minor for roughing.
"It felt like playoff hockey, that’s for sure," Mayfield said. "That’s part of it, those scrums, physical games. That’s good to see. That’s what fans want. We want an intense game. I think we gave them that. We’ve just got to find a way to start that right off the bat."
Jeff Carter’s second goal, a power-play tally from the left off Evgeni Malkin’s short feed, regained a 4-3 lead for the Penguins at 7:00 of the third.
Mayfield, pulling the puck around Zach Aston-Reese, had tied the game at 1 at 11:03 of the second period. But the Islanders couldn’t sustain that momentum and Carter beat Varlamov to the far post from the right circle to make it 2-1 at 13:33 of the second period and Jason Zucker, coming off the left wall, beat Varlamov over his glove to make it 3-1 at 18:03.
First, the crowd turned silent. Then boos followed the Islanders off the ice and into the second intermission.
"It was a fun game to play," Beauvillier said. "We didn’t get the result we wanted but the crowd was into it and it was fun to have the fans back in the building and gave us a lot of energy."
Despite the crowd’s early energy, the Islanders inexplicably got off to another slow start and the Penguins took a 1-0 lead at 2:01 of the first period as Aston-Reese deflected Letang’s wrister from the right point through Varlamov’s pads.