This one got chippier and chippier. And perhaps it will be even more so when the Islanders and Penguins meet again on Saturday night.
Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson certainly must expect that to be the case after delivering what Islanders coach Barry Trotz described as a "vicious cross-check" to Mathew Barzal late in the third period of host Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win on Thursday night.
"I think guys take notice," said Brock Nelson, who scored to make it 3-1 at 15:39 of the third period after Matheson was called for boarding Barzal. "It’s a fast game. Things are going to happen. You just want to respond in a positive manner and make it hard on him moving forward and let him know that we didn’t appreciate some plays."
The loss snapped the Islanders’ point streak at eight games and winning streak at three games.
Matheson, then with the Panthers, also knocked Johnny Boychuk out of all but the Islanders’ final two postseason games with an illegal check to the head in Game 1 of the qualifying series last season. Boychuk now is on long-term injured reserve and effectively retired because of an unrelated eye injury.
"He’s gotten a couple of our guys here," Trotz said. "Marty [Matt Martin] sent a message to him. Yeah, it’s going to get testy. We’ve got to play these guys a whole bunch. As it gets ramped up, it will probably get harder and harder."
The teams totaled 32 penalty minutes after Matheson’s penalty. Martin — who confronted Matheson and tried to fight him — Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield and the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin all drew 10-minute misconducts.
"It’s a physical game. It’s expected," said Anders Lee, who would have been penalized for a subsequent high hit on Matheson before Bryan Rust’s empty-net goal at 16:54 negated the delayed call. "Those things are going to happen. You don’t like to see them, but you try to take care of them at the right time."
Barzal seemed to be favoring his right arm or shoulder on the bench after Matheson’s hit. But he was on the ice for Rust’s empty-netter and Trotz said he expects him to be OK.
"Tough kid," Trotz said.
Semyon Varlamov made 33 saves and the Penguins’ Tristan Jarry stopped 31 shots. But other than the chippy play, what really marked this loss was that the Islanders failed to generate enough dangerous chances despite their advantage in offensive-zone time.
"It wasn’t our night around the net," Trotz said. "We didn’t get to the net enough. We didn’t execute on some of our chances to create a little more offense."
The Islanders, specifically Varlamov, had done everything to stay within one goal through a five-on-three advantage by the Penguins that lasted 1 minute, 13 seconds after Mayfield high-sticked Jake Guentzel at 11:38 with Lee already in the penalty box for hooking.
Varlamov made five saves on the Penguins’ two-man advantage, then two more saves with the Penguins skating five-on-four.
Still, the Penguins took a 2-0 lead at 18:01 of the second period. Teddy Blueger was left open on the weak side to knock in the rebound of Matheson’s initial shot as defenseman Noah Dobson drifted away from his man.
"The second goal really took a lot out of us," Trotz said.
Cal Clutterbuck nearly halved that deficit, but his shorthanded shot off Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s feed on an odd-man rush clanked off the crossbar 31 seconds into the third period. Jason Zucker made it 3-0 at 9:11, knocking in Rust’s feed from behind the crease.
Sidney Crosby had made it 1-0 at 4:15 of the first period after Nelson lost the puck just in front of Varlamov.
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.