Out of all that, the New York Islanders find themselves in a 2-1 series hole at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A chaotic third period that featured five goals, 32 penalty minutes, and the Islanders overturning a 3-1 deficit ended with Brandon Tanev batting in a popped-up puck over Semyon Varlamov with 3:36 left in regulation to deliver the Penguins a thrilling 5-4 win at Nassau Coliseum that included two quick replies to New York tying goals.
“That’s their game. They have a high execution rate,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “At the same time, we scored four goals. We had to come up with a win. That should be a lock for us.”
Trailing 3-1 heading into the third, and behind an obvious sense of urgency, the Islanders found another gear to start the final 20 minutes and cut their deficit to one just 3:46 into the frame when Cal Clutterbuck scored his first of two on the night, cleaning up a rebound in front of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry after an Islander assault inside the Pittsburgh zone.
Throwing finesse out the window, the Islanders continued to crash Jarry’s net and with 14:25 to go, a mad scramble led to a pseudo-line brawl that saw five Islanders and five Penguins pack the penalty box.
With a power-play coming out of the melee, the Islanders needed just 19 seconds as Anthony Beauvillier — who had been everywhere during the series — deservedly picked up his first goal of the playoffs to tie things up, sliding a forehanded sweep under Jarry to tie it up 5:54 into the period.
“It felt like playoff hockey, that’s for sure,” defenseman Scott Mayfield, who recorded a goal and two assists on the night, said. “That’s a part of it, those scrums, those physical games. That’s what the fans want to see.”
Anarchy would continue to reign supreme, however, as Clutterbuck ran into Jarry 30 seconds later to put the Islanders down a man.
Jeff Carter made them pay after just 37 seconds later, snapping a wrister over Varlamov for his second goal of the night to put the Penguins back ahead.
“I thought we lost momentum every time we scored,” Trotz said. “We got it tied up on the power play and then we took a penalty and I looked at it again and that’s a pretty slight call. I thought Clutterbuck was in the white paint and sort of got his feet scooped and they have to protect the goalies, I understand. We had to kill the penalty and we didn’t.
With 11:27 left in the period, Varlamov was beaten again by a Frederick Gaudreau wrister off an odd-man rush, but the trickling puck that went through his pads was slapped off the line by Noah Dobson, who was subsequently cross-checked into the crossbar by Jared McCann to put the Islanders back on a power play they couldn’t cash in on.
They would cash in with 5:43 left in regulation, however, as a shot from Mayfield deflected off of Clutterbuck’s leg and past Jarry to tie it up once again; only to set up Tanev’s heroics.
The Islanders had a golden chance just 30 seconds after Tanev’s goal as Brock Nelson had a wide-open net off a rebound from a Josh Bailey shot. But the diving stick of Crosby deflected the chance out of danger.
“Even at the end of the game when Brock had a chance, we couldn’t tie it up,” Trotz said. “We just have to stick with it. They’re up 2-1, we have to get the next game and move on. There was a lot to like about our game.”
A manic evening once again started with the Islanders playing catchup again almost instantaneously — much like Game 2 — when a shot from Kris Letang from the right point was tipped by Zach Aston-Reese over Varlamov just 2:03 into the game to give the Penguins another early lead.
After the Islanders’ penalty kill came up big yet again off a questionable Kyle Palmieri goalie interference call shortly after the Penguins’ opening goal, New York momentarily found their legs behind the raucous Coliseum crowd — showing some offensive malice much earlier than Games 1 and 2 as the first line carved out a few unsuccessful chances on Jarry.
That momentum led to the Islanders tilting the ice in their favor late into the first and into the second, especially through a pair of power plays that could not sustain enough to equalize as hesitancy headlined New York’s attack.
But with 8:57 left in the frame, a wrister from the right point by Mayfield — who toe-dragged his way patiently to an open lane — found twine over Jarry to equalize; and send the Coliseum creatures into bedlam.
It was only temporary, however, as Jeff Carter sniped a wrister from the right circle past Varlamov stick side 2:31 after Mayfield’s tally give Pittsburgh its lead back.
With 1:57 left in the second, Jason Zucker put the Penguins up two when his weaving wrister caught Varlamov napping, sneaking his shot over the netminder’s shoulder to sap even more energy out of a hushed building.
The Islanders suddenly find their backs up against the wall in Game 4 at the Coliseum. A win is imperative to keep the series in check as the Penguins now have home-ice advantage the rest of the way through.
“We’re disappointed but as soon as that buzzer rang, it’s over with,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal said. “We don’t dwell on anything or hang our heads for too long… we’ll be alright.”