Just as I expected that the Pittsburgh Penguins would need a big game out of Tristan Jarry in order to win Game 2, it made sense then that Game 3 would have to be a score-fest for Pittsburgh to win. And so it was, but still it was a one-goal game, the third straight of the series, but nevertheless a 5-4 win for the Penguins over the New York Islanders on Thursday at The Vet. Jeff Carter continued to build on his legend as a Penguin with two goals, both to break a tie and the team’s first on the power play, as he led all Penguins forwards in ice time. The big goal of the night came from Brandon Tanev, who too is establishing himself as a cult hero in Penguins lore with his energy and passion. His game-winner was his second such for his postseason career, and his first this season (after scoring four last season). The win put home-ice advantage back in the Pittsburgh’s possession, and puts tonight’s game into the must-win column for the Islanders.
As much as it was a score-fest it also turned into a shit-fest, particularly in the third period. The Penguins actually managed to force the referees to hand out penalties when they got tired of seeing their goaltender getting run over with no repercussions. At 5:35 of the third period all ten skaters got into a melee and were sent to penalty box, with Jake Guentzel earning New York a power play for slashing (when Scott Mayfield could have easily gotten a bonus penalty himself for punching Brian Dumoulin in the back of the head). Prior to those infractions, the only other penalty called in the third period in this series was at the end of Game 2, when Bryan Rust closed his hand on the puck late in the game. Perhaps not coincidentally, besides those penalties handed out after the line “brawl,” more penalties were called in the third period (four) than in the prior two periods (three). The refs must have remembered where there whistles were!
I do not see how the NHL benefits from having officials “managing” the game, whatever the hell that means. There’s a rulebook. You are paid to enforce the rules as they are written. You’re allowed some wiggle room in terms of interpretation, but how can you see things happening in front of you – right in front of your face sometimes! – and not call a penalty? What benefit is there to not calling a penalty? “Letting them play” is some knuckle-dragging bullshit that allows the game to devolve into ugliness, the clutching and grabbing that dragged the sport down in the late-1990s/early-2000s and was part of the reason why the referees were exhorted into calling more penalties immediately in the wake of the 2005-06 lockout.
The on-ice officials shouldn’t see themselves as “managers” so much as “mediators.” They are on the ice to make sure the sport is played correctly within the definition of the Rulebook. If one team commits more of the infractions than the other, guess what? The former team should have more penalties called against it. I don’t see why it being the playoffs should have any effect on the officials; if anything, they should call MORE penalties and really weed out the teams that play sloppily and flagrantly from those who play cleanly. The referees seem to think that calling penalties consistently mean that they shouldn’t more heavily penalize one team over the other, which is not the spirit of being an official. Calling penalties consistently should mean enforcing the Rulebook like it is the Bible of your sport. The officials are the priests of the sport, but they take way too many liberties with the rules to be respected.
Let’s put aside the terrible refereeing because we know it will continue to rear its ugly head throughout the playoffs. What became quite evident as the game progressed was that the Islanders do not have the skill to keep up with Pittsburgh. They carried the play in the first period but produced nothing while the Penguins were able to not just generate quality chances but produce a goal as well. Then in the second period they were able to get more quality but still lost in the goals department. Then they turned the third period into crap (with assistance from the refs) but ultimately couldn’t get in front of Pittsburgh. They didn’t lead once, and that’s a difficult place to be when you’re doing what seems to be your best.
As I said, tonight is a must-win game for the Islanders. They have yet to really establish their typical defensive tactics, mostly because the Penguins have not let New York get more than a one-goal lead thus far in this series. In fact the only time they have been ahead in this series was in Game 1, for all of the thirty-one seconds between Brock Nelson’s and Kasperi Kapanen’s goals. That was also the only game they won, but a lot of that seemed like the Penguins hadn’t really gotten their heads into playoff mode. Well I would say, with the team at full health (with all due respect to Casey DeSmith) and winning games despite not getting any points from the Crosby line, Pittsburgh is now fully-engaged in this series and they will be hard to stop without mucking it up. The only way forward for New York is to slow the game down in every way possible, and try to drive the Penguins nuts in the process. Besides Tristan Jarry having another meltdown like in Game 1 or some other tragedy for Pittsburgh, I don’t think there’s much hope for the Islanders.