They’ve lost two straight and are facing essentially a must-win Game 4. But the way they’re scoring goals and the physical turn their first-round series against the Penguins has made is encouraging to the Islanders.
Now, they just have to find a way to take a lead and slow the Penguins’ production.
"I don’t think there’s any reason to get frustrated," Kyle Palmieri said after the Islanders’ practice on Friday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "As a group, we’ve seen the things that help us become successful and find ways to put the puck in the net. So, we’ve just got to get to that early and try to find a way to play with the lead and move on from there."
The series may hang in the balance on whether the Islanders are successful in that. They can even the series at two games apiece on Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum, which again will host a crowd of 6,800.
Or, they’ll return to Pittsburgh for Monday night’s Game 5 in a steep hole.
The Islanders are likely to use the same lineup as their first three games, including Thursday night’s wild and chippy, 5-4, loss at the Coliseum.
But coach Barry Trotz could turn back to rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin, who made 39 saves in a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 in Pittsburgh, after Semyon Varlamov let in questionable early goals in his two starts.
"You definitely want to play with the lead, that’s important," Jordan Eberle said. "But there’s some positivity in the fact that we’ve been able to come from behind and continue to push and get better as the game goes on. You definitely want to start a little better and get above them and ahead of them rather than trying to come from behind. But, it’s just playoff hockey. You live in the moment. You can’t really worried what happened before that."
The Islanders’ only leads in the series came in Game 1. Palmieri made it 1-0 at 7:58 of the first period, only to have the Penguins tie it three minutes, 12 seconds later. Brock Nelson made it 3-2 at 15:50 of the third period but that lead lasted just 31 seconds. Palmieri scored the overtime winner.
In contrast, the Penguins have played with the lead for a combined 128:40 over the three games.
"We’ve been chasing the series the whole time," Trotz said. "So, when you do that, you leave yourself exposed because you’re pushing a little harder in some areas. But, at the same time, we can tighten up some stuff.
"We’ve had lots of opportunities," Trotz added. "We’ve missed the net a few times. We didn’t execute some of our plays and we didn’t score. But, we got four goals [in Game 3] and, usually, for Islander hockey, four goals you want to win a hockey game. We can tighten up a couple of things but we’re not having a problem scoring, other than Game 2."
The Penguins won that game, 2-1, after Varlamov missed Bryan Rust’s shot with his glove at 3:22 of the first period. Defenseman Kris Letang’s deflected puck beat Varlamov at 2:01 of the first period in Game 3.
But after another slow start, the Islanders spent much of the rest of Game 3 buzzing around the crease of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. That led to a third-period scrum in which five players from each team were penalized.
"That’s the series that we want to play," Eberle said. "The harder it gets, the better we feel. So, we want to continue to go to the net hard and if that stuff arises, then so be it."