The New York Islanders fought back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the favored Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series, but it might have been one punch that set the comeback in motion.
With one overwhelming overhand right from Kyle Okposo to Matt Niskanen, the Islanders took matter into their own hands and forced the top-seeded Penguins to take them seriously.
The end result was a 4-3 triumph over a more talented Penguins team at Consol Energy Center, tying the teams’ first-round playoff series 1-1 with Game 3 tomorrow at the Nassau Coliseum.
“We wanted to let them know it was going to be a battle,” Okposo said, “and we’re not going to roll over.”
With 4:58 gone by in the second period, the Islanders were outplaying the Penguins, but were down 2-1. Okposo saw Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen level his teammate Matt Moulson, and the winger did not let him get away scott-free.
He instead grabbed Niskanen and tossed aside his helmet, swung a right hook and bloodied Niskanen’s face. The gash on his left cheek was deep, and the brawl seemed to ignite a fire and a new attitude showing that this Islanders team — in the playoffs for the first time in six years and with the vast majority of its players skating in the playoffs for the first time — was not going to just lay down.
“It shows a lot of character and [guts],” said defenseman Travis Hamonic, on the ice when Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead just 43 seconds into the game. “What Kyle did is a huge game-changer.”