PITTSBURGH — The Islanders had plenty of time to recover from an early deficit and a rare softie allowed by Semyon Varlamov. They just could never get the equalizer, despite skating six-on-four for the final 88 seconds.
So, the Islanders and Penguins are tied 1-1 in their firstround playoff series after the Penguins’ 2-1 win in Tuesday night’s Game 2 at PPG Paints Arena before a raucous crowd of 9,344 as capacity was expanded to 50%.
And the Islanders know they must get off to a better start in Thursday night’s Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum.
"We’ve just got to come out better," coach Barry Trotz said. "There’s no magic pill I can give everybody. It comes from within. They’ve got to simplify and be ready to go. They’ve got to not ease into the game and they’ve got to establish right off the bat. It’s on the room to do that."
Trotz opted to start Varlamov, who recovered to make 43 saves after his shaky start, despite rookie Ilya Sorokin stopping 39 shots in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win, his NHL playoff debut. Tristan Jarry stopped 37 saves after a rough Game 1 outing.
"We just move forward," said Josh Bailey, whose backhander brought the Islanders within 2-1 at 14:44 of the second period.
"It can be a bit of a chess match, switching little things here and there. We got one win and we would have liked two. But we move forward and get ready for a big game on Thursday on our ice."
PPG Paints Arena had hosted at 25% capacity for Game 1 and the difference with the larger crowd was immeasurable. Nassau Coliseum will also be allowed to host at 50% of capacity for Thursday night’s Game 3, with approximately 6,800 in the venerable barn after capacity had been 1,400 since March 18.
"It raises the emotional level, especially for the home team," Trotz said. "It seems strange. It’s been quiet for the last little while. Now, I’ve got people yelling at me, at the team and each other and you can’t hear on the bench. It’s a good feeling to be back to that. It brings juice to the game. It brings emotion. We’re in the business of emotion."
The Islanders had won the first game after trailing 2-1 entering the third period. But they were outshot, 16-10, over the final 20 minutes in Game 2 and got only one shot after Bryan Rust was penalized for closing his hand on the puck at 18:32 and Varlamov off for an extra skater.
"The third period, we needed more of a push, which was a little disappointing," Trotz said.
Jarry did stop Jordan Eberle’s backhander from the high slot at 2:02 of the third period and Mathew Barzal couldn’t quite get full control of the puck as he broke in on the crease at 7:52.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead at 3:22 of the first period on their third shot, an embarrassing play all around for the Islanders. First, defenseman Ryan Pulock flubbed an exit pass at the Islanders’ blue line.
Rust took the puck, skated to his right and flipped a longrange shot at Varlamov, who barely moved as the puck flew over his glove.
"The first goal, we’d like back," Trotz said. "I thought we stabilized after the first 10 minutes."
"I think we stayed with it," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "That’s what’s nice about playing at home. It was loud in there so they had a push at the start. But the biggest thing is to stay with our game plan and we got to it eventually and I think we had a good second half."
But the Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 at 13:07 of the first period as Jared McCann’s forecheck led to Jeff Carter’s goal from the slot with Varlamov coming high out of his net and Pulock caught in noman’s land between Carter and the goal line.
The Islanders seemed to gain momentum from their penalty kill, which is now 5-for-5 in the series after going 2-for-2 on Tuesday.