It wasn’t pretty, but the Penguins got the job done Saturday night on Long Island.
It wasn’t the same team we saw in Game 5, but Tomas Vokoun and a couple of missed opportunities by the Islanders allowed the Penguins to hang around long enough to pull it out in the end.
The Islanders dominated much of the play in regulation and even parts of overtime. They outshot the Penguins 38-21 and had the lead on three separate occasions.
However, it wasn’t enough and the most unlikely of heroes came through for the Penguins in overtime.
Evgeni Malkin came flying off the bench and kept the play alive by blocking a clearing attempt along the far wall. The puck went behind the net and Tyler Kennedy executed a give and go with Malkin. Then, Kennedy fed the puck back to the point right into Brooks Orpik’s wheelhouse.
The resulting one-timer rang off two pipes and settled into the net, giving the Penguins both the win in the game and the series.
It was Orpik’s first career playoff goal and the first time the Penguins have advanced to the second round since 2010.
While I’ve seen plenty of emphatic goal celebrations, I’ve never seen anyone impersonate Michael Jackson’s leg kick. The only thing he was missing was the moonwalk (see Alex Kovalev).
You have to give the Islanders credit for how they played in this series. They knew they had an overall advantage in the speed department and they found ways to utilize it. Their forecheck was incredible and they forced an absurd amount of turnovers in the series.
Head coach Jack Capuano said they had to play perfect hockey in order to beat the Penguins and they nearly did. Had Evgeni Nabokov played even marginally better, the tone of this article could be very different.
The adversity the Penguins faced in this series could end up being “great” as Jarome Iginla said.
If anything, it shows the guys in the room that they are not invincible and that they are actually going to have to go out there and earn victories. I would expect a much different looking team to show up in the next round.
Speaking of Iginla, one of the best things to come out of this series was head coach Dan Bylsma moving him back to his natural right wing position alongside Sidney Crosby. Sure, Chris Kunitz was “bumped” to the second line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, but it’s not like that line didn’t rip it up a year ago.
Moving Iginla to Crosby’s line has been impressive. The move was made during the first period of Game 5 and the line got stronger as the game went on. Last night, Crosby and Iginla connected to bury the first goal for the Pens.
While Malkin was on a tear during the series (two goals, nine assists), I’d offer that the addition of Kunitz makes the second line even more dangerous.
Moving Kunitz to the second line balances out the top two lines and creates even more matchup problems for opponents.
While I’ve been critical of Tyler Kennedy this season, his play over the last two games has been spectacular. He sat in the press box for the first four games of the series, but made an immediate impact in Game 5.
His breakaway goal in the second period broke a scoreless tie and stunned the Islanders. Before you knew it, it was 3-0 and the game was all but over.
Last night, Kennedy was arguably the best player on the ice not named Crosby for the Penguins. He’s playing like his roster spot depends on it – and it probably does.
The same could be said of Joe Vitale. I can’t say enough good things about how Vitale plays the game. He’s a little ball of energy that never quits.
The fourth line of Craig Adams, Vitale and Kennedy was the best line for much of Game 5 and did another good job in Game 6. While I questioned sitting Jussi Jokinen from a faceoff standpoint, Vitale has done more than a serviceable job going 14-6 over the last two games.
Let’s also not forget what a pass he made to Pascal Dupuis to set up the Penguins’ second goal of the game.
At this point, I don’t think the Penguins need to make any alterations to the lineup as they prepare to take on the Ottawa Senators in round two.
Yes, that also means keeping Vokoun in net.
I’ve been a Marc-Andre Fleury supporter since before it was the hip thing to do. I even defended his sub-par performance against the Flyers a year ago, but right now, the cage is Vokoun’s until he plays himself out of it.
The playoffs are not a time to play favorites. You play the guys who are hot and right now, Vokoun is that guy.
He came in for Game 5 and was phenomenal with a 31-save shutout. Last night, Vokoun allowed three goals on 38 shots just to give the Penguins a chance at winning.
Vokoun came up with two huge saves on two separate 2-on-1 breaks for the Islanders in the third period as the Penguins pressed for the tying goal.
He has been the calming and stabilizing presence in net the Penguins needed in order to close this series out. His efforts deserve to be rewarded by starting Game 1 against Ottawa.
For now, let’s just be happy that the Islanders now know (20 years later) what it’s like for an unlikely hero to end your season.
On to round two!
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