Unlikely hero helps Penguins dispatch pesky Islanders in six games

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Special to The Globe and Mail

Pittsburgh Penguins' Brooks Orpik (R) is embraced by teammates Evgeni Malkin (L) and Tyler Kennedy (C) after his overtime goal against the New York Islanders during their Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference quarter-final game in Uniondale, New York, May 11, 2013. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)

After 79 seconds of Saturday night’s game against the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma called a timeout amid the din of roaring fans in old Nassau Coliseum.

His Penguins had just iced the puck and needed the rest, he said, after a long opening shift for his starters.

But Bylsma also may have sensed his players needed to get their bearings or get overwhelmed by an underdog Islanders’ team that seemed terrified to be in the playoffs in the first game of this series but grew in confidence as the first round wore on.

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In some ways, his Penguins were outplayed Saturday by the young New Yorkers. But Pittsburgh, with more playoff savvy and experience, managed a 4-3 overtime victory that gave the Penguins a four games to two series victory in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals. The Penguins – outshot 38-21 Saturday – move on to face Ottawa in the next round.

The winning goal was scored by Brooks Orpik, the Penguins’ defenceman, who slapped a puck from the left point through traffic and past Islanders’ goalie Evgeni Nabokov at 7:49 of the first overtime period. The shot appeared to change direction after hitting an Islander skate on the way to the net.

For Orpik, it was his first goal in 78 playoff games and his first in any game since Nov. 21, 2011. He spoke of it, of course, but also of the losing players, who were cheered and chanted off the ice by their fans despite the end of their season.

“I’m sure they’re really disappointed over there and that will sting for a while,” Orpik said. “But in a couple years, they’ll look back and appreciate what they learned this series. They gave us all we could handle.”

Pittsburgh's last postseason series victory came in 2010. New York last won a playoff round in 1993. The Penguins were the top seed in the East; the Islanders were eighth .

Saturday night’s game was wildly entertaining and often frantic. In regulation time, the teams exchanged goals the way boxers trade punches – first the Islanders, then the Penguins, the pattern repeating three times.

Pittsburgh tied it, 3-3, at 14:44 of the third period, when Paul Martin slapped the puck past Nabokov. It was set up by Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, who led Islanders’ defenceman Matt Carkner on a wide-circle chase, counter-clockwise in the Islanders zone, pulling him out of position before he set up Martin.

Scoring the other goals for Pittsburgh were Jarome Iginla and Pascal Dupuis. Islanders’ goals were by John Tavares, Colin McDonald and Michael Grabner against Tomas Vokoun. All were at even strength.

“I haven’t been around,” McDonald said, “but hopefully we gained some respect back in the league and with our fans.”

Tavares is one of three finalists for the Hart Memorial trophy for most valuable player. The other candidates are Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.

After Tavares’s goal, the Coliseum fans chanted “M-V-P!” and they chanted it again when the game was over. “I like where we’re headed,” Tavares said, referring to team quality and not to their new home in Brooklyn in two years or less.

His coach, Jack Capuano, said: “We sure opened some eyes.” Of the post-game celebration by the home fans despite defeat, Capuano said: “They respect the work ethic and the desperation we played with. Our guys left it all on the ice and give it everything they have.”

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