Save for a few flare-ups in the first period, the follow-up to the Friday Night FightFest at Nassau Coliseum two months ago was relatively tame. But the hotly-anticipated rematch between the Islanders and Penguins didn’t lack for excitement.
The Islanders tied the game with 35 seconds left in regulation before losing 4-3 in a shootout to the Penguins in the team’s last home game of the season-- a 16,250 sellout.
Unlike the Islanders 9-3 rout of the Penguins February 11, a game that featured a franchise record-setting 346 combined penalty minutes, 11 game misconducts and 15 fighting majors, Friday night’s contest boiled down to one simple shootout goal.
After stopping the first two Penguins shooters, Islanders goaltender Al Montoya let up the game-winner to Chris Kunitz in the third round of the shootout. With the win, Pittsburgh clinched home ice for the playoffs.
“It was a good, clean hockey game. I think fans got their money’s worth” coach Jack Capuano said. “Both goaltenders stole the show, but in the skills competition they got the goal.”
With league disciplinarian Colin Campbell in attendance, the Penguins jockeying for playoff positioning and the on-ice officials quick to diffuse any potential situation, the game had a decidedly different feel from the teams’ last meeting.
There were no line brawls, goalie fights, or ejections, but there were plenty of white-knuckle moments, regardless.
Down a goal late in the third, the Islanders almost pulled even with what would’ve been an equalizer from Matt Moulson, but the goal was waived off because John Tavares was in the crease. Then with only 35 seconds remaining, rookie defenseman Travis Hamonic tied the game with a blast from the point.
Call-up defenseman Mark Katic almost gave the Islanders the clincher in overtime, but the goal slipped past Marc-Andre Fleury with time already expired.
Despite pre-game promises of a détente, tensions between the teams resurfaced briefly during the first period.
After Rupp’s backhanded whack gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 8:57, enforcers Trevor Gillies and Eric Godard dropped the gloves at center ice two seconds later.
In an effort to deflate the intensity, officials sent both Gillies and Godard to their respective dressing rooms with 10-minute misconducts in addition to five-minute fighting majors.
Less than three minutes after the first fight, Zenon Konopka was sent off the ice after his scrap with Arron Asham, with two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and 10-minute misconduct. Asham received only a five-minute fighting major.
Both Gillies and Konopka were required to attend in-person hearings with the NHL for their roles in February’s fracas. Konopka received no punishment, but Gillies was slapped with a 9-game ban for his elbow on Eric Tangradi. Matt Martin also earned a 4-game suspension for his attack on Max Talbot and the Islanders were fined $100,000 for the whole debacle.
Blake Comeau, who missed the teams’ last meeting with a concussion—the very impetus for the bad blood between the two teams, tallied two goals for the Islanders.
“Obviously there was a lot of hype around the game with what happened last time, but we just decided it was a hockey game,” he said. “We knew they were trying to clinch the division and climb the standings. We put whatever happened in the past behind us.”