Somewhere amidst the city of Pittsburgh, law enforcement is scouring the streets for a group of 19 skaters clad in blue and orange who committed a robbery on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Josh Bailey scored the double-overtime winner 51 seconds in to lift the New York Islanders to one of the most unlikely 3-2 victories to steal Game 5 of their Eastern Division first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, taking a 3-2 series lead.
Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry committed the ultimate sin of turning the puck over to Bailey while out of his net and he never got back in position as the Islanders’ veteran winger glided in and floated a wrister into the back of the net.
“At first I was just trying to settle it down and get a good shot off,” Bailey said. “I ultimately ran out of time and tried to let one go. Happy to see it go in.”
No one would be caught saying that the Islanders deserved to be in that position as they were thoroughly dominated by the Penguins all night. They were outshot 50-28, but the play of New York goalie Ilya Sorokin kept the Islanders in it all night, setting a rookie playoff franchise record with 48 saves — some luckier than others — as regulation goals from Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle created the deadlock in Game 5.
“Outstanding,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said of his goalie. “I can use all the ones that you want to write, they all will apply. He was outstanding. He gave us a chance. The first two periods were not pretty and he allowed us to hang around.”
One such stop came midway through the first overtime period when a shot from the point by Marcus Pettersson was deflected down by Frederick Gaudreau, bouncing off the ice and striking the right leg of Sorokin, who didn’t know much about it.
“It all goes up front to Ilya,” Trotz added. “We don’t have a chance without him.”
On the other end, both Leo Komarov and Matt Martin had golden chances in front of Jarry alone, but couldn’t get good enough pieces to find a way to hit the back of the net.
Eberle had another big chance with 1:46 remaining in the first extra frame when he came down the right-wing alone, but his wrister was snared smoothly by Jarry.
“[I told them to] dig in, play the right way, there’s not a bad shot,” Trotz said about his talk with the team between the first and second overtime periods. “Keep the shifts short, be on the right side of the puck, and it’s going to be about who wants it more. I know you’re tired, we had to battle all night, but stick with it. This is about character and care for each other.”
Sorokin was busy from the jump, and imperative in keeping the Islanders in it early on as he was forced to make some key saves off lackadaisical play from his defense.
After big stops on a scrum in front and a difficult redirection, Sorokin bailed out Scott Mayfield, who turned the puck over from behind the net right to Jake Guentzel in front of the Islanders’ goal. The Penguins forward’s wrister was cut off by Sorokin, who came out aggressively to make a chest save; and that was all in the first 7:20 of the night.
After Bailey took a slashing penalty seconds later, the Penguins deservedly took the lead when Evgeni Malkin sniped a wrist shot over the blocker side of Sorokin 8:20 into the first.
Out of nothing, the Islanders found an equalizer with 54 seconds left in the period to salvage a largely disappointing opening. On a clear from the New York zone, a pass from Bailey was able to find a streaking Anthony Beauvillier, who was able to breeze behind a pinching Penguins defense, weave past the last man standing for Pittsburgh in Guentzel, and pop a wrister from in close over Jarry to equalize.
The focus came back to Sorokin upon the start of the second period as he made two saves on a pair of Penguins 2-on-1 chances in the first minute of the frame; the first on Sidney Crosby and the second with a sprawling toe save on Brandon Tanev in close.
Pittsburgh got in front 7:37 into the second after a strong forecheck pinned the Islanders’ fourth line out on the ice. They finally were able to work a chance for Bryan Rust to send a long-range shot past Sorokin, who just couldn’t get out far enough to cut down the angle.
Sidney Crosby got the primary assist on Rust’s goal, giving him 191 career postseason points and moving him past Bretty Hull into seventh on the NHL’s all-time list in that category.
The Penguins kept coming, wave after wave, as they outshot the Islanders 20-4 in the second period. Yet Sorokin remained strong, and the visitors headed into the third period in Pittsburgh only trailing by a goal.
The problem was that the Islanders showed little juice to try and get back in it as they went over eight minutes of the third period without a single shot attempt let alone a shot on goal.
But they certainly made their first shot of the period count when a turnover created by a strong Jean-Gabriel Pageau forecheck from behind the Penguins’ net saw Leo Komarov feed Eberle, who initially mishandled the puck, but gathered it just in time to slot it past an outstretched Jarry, who was flat on his stomach, to tie it up with 11:10 to go in regulation.
“Once we got it tied up and going to overtime, I was thinking that this was going to be our night,” Trotz admitted.
Pittsburgh got back to its dominating ways and nearly took advantage of a soft clear attempt from Ryan Pulock when Jeff Carter came down the right-wing alone on Sorokin just three minutes after Eberle’s equalizer, but the Islanders’ goaltender poked the puck away before he shot it. Just seconds later, he denied Carter at the doorstep on a one-time attempt.
“I was proud of the group for hanging in there,” Trotz said. “When things aren’t going well or they aren’t going your way or you’re feeling a little overwhelmed — doesn’t matter in this game or in life — your attitude can change… what I liked about our group is we pulled together.
“It wasn’t easy… instead of trying to shift the blame, we dug in. To me, that’s what good teams do.”
With 8:03 to go, the Islanders lost Oliver Wahlstrom for the rest of the night when he was taken down in the corner of the Penguins’ zone by Mike Matheson — the same Matheson who ended Johnny Boychuk’s career last season — who had his stick around the young winger’s neck before falling into the boards. He favored his right leg as he was helped off the ice.
While the loss provided a sizable blow, the Islanders continued to wrench momentum from the Penguins and with 5:57 to go, Brock Nelson drew a trip on Frederick Gaudreau to put New York on a power play. However, they could not generate much as a big chance fell by the wayside, ultimately resulting in extra hockey in the Steel City.
It was only fitting that the overtime heroics came on the 41 anniversary of Bobby Nystrom’s overtime winner that delivered the Stanley Cup to the Islanders in 1980, sparking a dynasty that saw the franchise win four-straight championships.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Pageau said. “There’s one thing I know about this group of guys and it’s we left it all out there. Just to get rewarded, it might not have been our prettiest… it’s an amazing feeling. We turn the page, we’re definitely happy about this one, but we have to focus on the next one.”
The Islanders have an opportunity to close the Penguins out and advance to the Eastern Division Finals on Wednesday for Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum.