No. 1 Penguins at No. 4 Islanders
7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, MSG, MSG+, ATTSN-PT
Best-of-7 series tied, 1-1
Evgeni Malkin will be a game-time decision for a third straight game when the Pittsburgh Penguins face the New York Islanders in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday.
The center took line rushes at the morning skate, returning to second-line center, and was on the top power-play unit. He missed Game 1 and Game 2 with an undisclosed injury.
The Penguins did not practice Wednesday after evening the series with a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“The three-headed monster (Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jeff Carter) that they have when Malkin plays, at center ice, they’re pretty loaded,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re going to have two Hall of Famers and one that’s pretty close.”
Despite the loss, Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov impressed in his return from missing a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 for an undisclosed reason. He made 43 saves and didn’t allow a goal after Carter scored at 13:07 of the first period.
Teams that win Game 3 after a best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 are 223-107 (67.6 percent), including 3-1 in the first round last season.
Here are 3 keys for Game 3:
1. A better start for New York
After the Islanders rallied from down 2-1 to win Game 1, Trotz said the one thing he would’ve liked to change was their approach in the first period. They took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Kyle Palmieri but gave up the next two and were outshot 18-13 in the first.
That didn’t change in Game 2, when the Penguins led 2-0 and held a 19-13 shot advantage after the first period.
The Islanders responded well in the second period of each game but could be in a better position by being prepared at puck drop for Game 3.
“It just comes down to playing hard, sticking together,” forward Josh Bailey said. “I think we’re two pretty evenly matched teams, so we’re going to try to come out tonight and give it our best.”
2. Solving Varlamov
Varlamov gave the Penguins fits in Game 2 after allowing a simple shot from Bryan Rust above the right face-off circle to get past his glove at 3:22 of the first. He surrendered a goal from Carter later in the period, but that was scored on a point-blank wrist shot from the slot.
Pittsburgh, leading 2-1 in the third, dominated the final period Tuesday. It outshot the Islanders 16-10, but Varlamov made several key saves to keep New York one shot away from tying.
At the other end, Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry made 37 saves after a shaky Game 1, where he allowed four goals on his glove side. But it’s not guaranteed Jarry will have a similar performance in Game 3, making it beneficial for the Penguins to find a way to get at least one more past Varlamov than they did Tuesday.
3. Patience vs. Aggression
The first two games had the expected ebbs and flows. The Penguins controlled early just for the Islanders to respond in the second period. New York had the better third period in Game 1. Pittsburgh had a strong third in Game 2.
The teams’ dueling philosophies led to those momentum shifts.
The Islanders have a heavy forecheck that gave the Penguins a hard time in Game 1. In Game 2, Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said his players were willing to dump the puck, put it along the boards and try to win individual puck battles.
If New York’s aggression flusters Pittsburgh the way it did late in Game 1, that would bode well for it winning Thursday. But if the Penguins continue to wait and make the simple play, they could win a second straight game this series.
“Sometimes you just have to gain the zone,” Sullivan said. “So the guys are working together, I think, collectively to try to beat any forecheck the Islanders are trying to present.”
Penguins projected lineup
Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker — Evgeni Malkin — Kasperi Kapanen
Jared McCann — Jeff Carter — Frederick Gaudreau
Zach Aston-Reese — Teddy Blueger — Brandon Tanev
Brian Dumoulin — Kris Letang
Mike Matheson — Cody Ceci
Marcus Pettersson — John Marino
Scratched: Evan Rodrigues, Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Friedman, Juuso Riikola, Colton Sceviour, Sam Lafferty, Mark Jankowski, Radim Zohorna, Yannick Weber, Anthony Angello, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Drew O’Connor, Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Injured: Casey DeSmith (lower body)
Islanders projected lineup
Leo Komarov — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Bailey
Kyle Palmieri – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock
Nick Leddy — Scott Mayfield
Andy Greene — Noah Dobson
Scratched: Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, Travis Zajac, Braydon Coburn, Cory Schneider, Austin Czarnik, Andrew Ladd, Kieffer Bellows, Sebastian Aho, Thomas Hickey
Trotz said the Islanders will use the same forward lines and defense pairs from the first two games. … If Malkin doesn’t play, Carter will remain second-line center and McCann will play left wing on that line. Gaudreau will be the center on the third line with Zucker at left wing and Rodrigues staying in the lineup at right wing.