For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders clinched a playoff series at home, riding a second-period outbreak of three goals in just under three minutes to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 5-3, Game 6 victory.
They’ll meet the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Division final.
“Really proud. I thought we showed a lot of resiliency,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I liked our resiliency, I liked our physicality, I liked our detail.”
Brock Nelson potted a pair of goals in the Islanders’ big middle frame, which came just 2:59 apart, eliminating his side’s constant role of playing from behind not only in Game 6 but in the series.
“We were able to transition and execute and go down the ice. Lots of good things, but I liked the surge in the second period,” Trotz said. “And then we just battled.”
Once again, it was rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin who backstopped the Islanders to the series win — coming out on top of all four games he started — making 34 saves on Wednesday night and getting better and better as the night improved.
For the third time this series, the Islanders quickly found themselves playing catchup as the Penguins took the lead 1:27 into the first period on the game’s first shot.
After an unsuccessful pinch from Nick Leddy and a turnover by Mathew Barzal, the Penguins sprung an odd-man rush where Kasperi Kapanen centered a pass for Jeff Carter, who slotted his fourth goal of the series through the wickets of Sorokin.
The Islanders quickly provided a response on their first shot of the game when Anthony Beauvillier popped a wrister over Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry on a rush started by Nelson in the neutral zone — who saucered a pass right to the tape of Beauvillier while he was streaking toward the goal in Pittsburgh’s zone.
“This is a special group we have. Lots of character, lots of leadership,” Beauvillier said. “We just stuck with it and the fans gave us a boost… They’re a huge part of our success.”
After Scott Mayfield was called for a cross-checking penalty on Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins took the lead via the power play with 8:48 remaining in the first; Jake Guentzel’s one-timer deflected by Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock before fluttering past Sorokin, who could do nothing but watch it sail past him.
Sorokin had to bail out Leddy moments later after the defenseman gifted a turnover to Jared McCann, who skated in alone on the rookie netminder. Just moments later, the Islanders tied it back up when Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s shot was deflected right into the path of Kyle Palmieri, who cleaned up the rebound just 1:13 after Guentzel’s goal.
In the final minutes of the first, Travis Zajac — who was thrust into the starting lineup after Oliver Wahlstrom was injured in Game 5 — bailed Sorokin out after Kasperi Kapanen wove around the netminder with traffic in front. With a yawning goal, Zajac’s stick halted the chance to ensure the Islanders went into the first intermission tied at two.
But the Islanders would concede a third early in the second when Jason Zucker deflected a shot from Cody Ceci on the right point around Sorokin just 1:53 into the frame.
It was an anthill to climb as the Islanders reeled off three goals in 2:59 to take a 5-3 lead heading into the third.
Nelson tied the game off a feed picture-perfect cross-ice feed from Josh Bailey to slot an easy wrister into an open net.
Just 13 seconds later, Ryan Pulock unloaded a patented bomb of a slapshot that Jarry never recognized until it was in the back of his net.
With Jarry rattled by the relentless noise machine that was the Coliseum crowd, Nelson picked up his second with 9:26 left in the second; a wrister that just squeaked through the wickets of the Penguins’ shaken netminder.
“Whenever you can kind of get that momentum and ride it, that’s huge,” Nelson said. “There’s going to be ups and downs, but you can get the crowd up and going, get the adrenaline flowing… that’s huge.”
Nelson had a chance at a hat trick minutes later on a breakaway, but he missed the net — which led to a breakaway for the dangerous Evgeni Malkin on the other end, to which Sorokin denied.
As expected heading into the third, the Islanders faced the most desperate version of the Penguins yet, as the visitors faced elimination.
But as the Islanders have patented over the last three years, they yielded a majority of possession in the final period to the Pens, but they did not allow many high-danger chances.
With 4:44 remaining in the game, Matt Martin took a high stick from John Marino, drawing blood, which prompted a four-minute Islanders power play to help see Game 6 out.