The Islanders are halfway to the next playoff round.
And they’re well aware that that’s all they are.
“I really don’t think any playoff series is over until the final buzzer goes off in the fourth win,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “There are too many momentum swings in the playoffs.”
But the Islanders have been on the right side of that momentum for two games against the Penguins in the first round.
Nothing deterred them in their 3-1 win in Friday night’s Game 2 before a delirious sell-out crowd of 13,917 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. They produced a dominant, two-goal third period, played a smarter game and stood up physically to the Penguins in a chippy affair with a scrum after the final buzzer.
It’s the Islanders’ first 2-0 lead in a series since they swept the Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final.
Jordan Eberle lifted a backhander over Matt Murray (31 saves) to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 7:54 of the third period, his second goal in two games. Josh Bailey’s power-play goal at 11:38, off a rebound of Devon Toews’ shot, made it 3-1 as the Islanders finally converted on their sixth man-advantage chance.
“I thought we played a good game,” said goalie Robin Lehner (32 saves). “I thought we got back to our game a little bit more. They’re a heck of a hockey team with a great offense. They’re going to find chances, but I think we stuck with it.”
“Friday night at the Coli,” captain Anders Lee added. “It was awesome. The boys responded well to the energy. I thought we were patient. They’re a really good team and they’re going to find a way to get some chances. We played really good defense. It was a lot better than the back-and-forth last game.”
The series now shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon and Game 4 on Tuesday night. A sweep will close the door on the Coliseum for this season, as all subsequent rounds will be played at Barclays Center.
The Islanders squeezed out a 4-3 overtime win in Wednesday night’s Game 1 although the Penguins found plenty of skating space in the second period.
The Islanders continued to stifle Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had one shot in Game 2, has only three for the series and was held without a point in each game.
“We stayed with it all night,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought Pittsburgh came out hard and both teams were knocking heads for a while.”
Eberle, who had his first NHL playoff goal in Game 1, continued his strong play since being reunited with Mathew Barzal on March 11.
Eberle, in his second season with the Islanders and the final season of a six-year, $36 million deal he signed with the Oilers, had 19 goals and 18 assists in 78 regular-season games. It was the fewest points he’s had in an 82-game schedule in his nine NHL seasons.
But he had six goals and one assist in the final 14 regular-season games and also
was on the ice for Bailey’s power-play clincher in Game 2.
After getting three shots on their three first-period power plays, the Islanders could not convert on two more power plays in the second period, including 54 seconds of five-on-three play that generated two shots.
“We talked about that earlier in the week, our power play not killing momentum,” Lee said. “We might not score all the time but have a good showing, have some shots. Get some buzz around us.”
Almost predictably, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead, with defenseman Erik Gudbranson connecting from the blue line at 10:36 of the second period.
But Anthony Beauvillier led a two-on-one rush with Barzal and punched in the rebound to tie the score at 1-1 at 13:25 of the second period after Murray stopped Barzal.
As Beauvillier celebrated, Barzal and Gudbranson wrestled on the ice as a scrum erupted between the teams. Barzal received a double-minor for roughing to Gudbranson’s two minutes and the two continued jawing in the penalty boxes