The New York Islanders will try to build off a surprising win over the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins when they host Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders are heavy underdogs in this best-of-seven series and few people were shocked when Pittsburgh routed New York by a 5-0 score in the opener at CONSOL Energy Center. However, the eighth-seeded Isles bounced back with a 4-3 victory in Friday's Game 2 in the Steel City and they overcame a 3-1 first- period deficit to do so.
Pittsburgh lost Game 2 despite the return of captain Sidney Crosby, who had been out since March 30 when he suffered a broken jaw. Crosby scored two goals in the game, but he couldn't prevent New York from knotting the series at one game apiece.
New York is in the postseason for the first time in six years and Sunday's game on Long Island will be the first playoff test at the Coliseum since April 18, 2007 against the Buffalo Sabres. The Islanders lost that series to the Sabres 4-1 and haven't posted more than one win in any single playoff series since losing in seven games to Toronto in the opening round of the 2002 playoffs.
The Islanders, who will also host Game 4 on Tuesday, were actually better on the road than at home during the regular season. They were 10-11-3 on Long Island and 14-6-4 as the guest. Pittsburgh had identical 18-6-0 records at home and on the road this season.
Kyle Okposo scored the winner in the third period as the Islanders rallied to take a 4-3 victory over the Penguins on Friday.
"We had our legs going," said New York head coach Jack Capuano. "After the first period, we had 20 shots on net. You could tell we were playing our game. Our guys are relentless. It only takes a couple shots to get back in the game. I knew if we continued to play the way we did in the first period, we would get on the score board and have some kind of success throughout the game."
A fortunate bounce for the Islanders led to the go-ahead goal. Okposo fired a shot from the slot that went wide to the left of the net, but it came back out front and Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury inadvertently kicked it into the net.
Matt Moulson, Colin McDonald and Matt Martin all scored for the Islanders, who received 30 saves from Evgeni Nabokov.
Martin also received a fortuitous bounce for his second-period goal, which evened the score at 3-3. Josh Bailey's shot from the slot went wide to the left of the net, but it came right to the stick of Martin and he shot it past a surprised Fleury.
Fleury let in all four goals on 42 shots for the Penguins, who are in the playoffs for a seventh straight year but have been eliminated in the first round the past two seasons.
In addition to the two goals from Crosby, Pittsburgh also got a goal from Evgeni Malkin, but all three tallies came in the first period and the team was stymied by Nabokov and the Islanders in the final two periods.
"I think we know we didn't play the way we needed to," said Crosby. "Obviously they got some bounces but they worked for them and I don't think we feel we did enough to deserve that one."
Although Crosby was back for the Pens, the club did not have forward James Neal or defenseman Brooks Orpik on the ice for Game 2.
Neal, who was second on Pittsburgh with 21 goals this season, suffered a lower body injury following a hit from New York's Travis Hamonic in the opening game. He skated briefly on Saturday but his status for Game 3 is uncertain.
Orpik hasn't played since April 23, missing the final two games of the regular season and the first two tilts of this series with a lower body issue. He also is questionable for Game 3.
This is the fourth time the Penguins and Islanders are meeting in the playoffs. The Isles won the previous three series, including a victory in the division finals in 1993, which was the last time the club won a playoff series.