May 25—It was a game the Penguins couldn’t lose.
—A game where the Penguins had leads of 1-0 and 2-1.
—A game that saw them outshoot the Islanders 50-28 (20-4 in the second period).
—A game that featured a 36-17 Penguins’ edge in scoring chances through the first four periods.
—A game where the power play clicked for a goal and the penalty kill came up clutch twice.
—A game where the Penguins only took two penalties after their parade to the box in Game 4.
—A game where the Penguins won the faceoff battle after getting roasted in that department last time out.
But they did lose it. They lost because, despite getting 50 shots on goal, only two got by New York goaltender Ilya Sorokin.
And they lost it because their goalie did his best Neil O’Donnell impersonation.
That was Larry Brown, unassis … oops, sorry … Josh Bailey, unassisted 51 seconds into the second overtime to give the Islanders a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the East Division first-round playoff series.
It also gives them a 3-2 lead in the series itself, putting the Penguins on the brink of being one and done in the playoffs for a third straight season.
“There was a lot to like about this game,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the defeat. “There are a lot of positives that we can draw on moving forward. That’s the approach we’ll take.”
It’s been hard enough for the Penguins to win games in this series when they are being played relatively evenly. Now the Penguins just gave one away when they dominated. Yet the team’s skaters are refusing to lay the result at the feet of their goaltender despite his game-deciding gaffe.
“It’s a team game. It’s nobody’s fault,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. “We win as a team. We lose as a team. You gotta shake it off, and he is going to bring his A game (in Game 6) like we did tonight. And we’ll go (to Long Island on Wednesday) and try to win a game.”
Letang is right there. For as good as the stat sheet looks, one truth remains. If a team that is as allegedly gifted as the Penguins can generate 50 shots on goal (77 attempted) against the vaunted Islanders defense, more than two need to go in.
Especially with the quality of looks they got, as opposed to the ones they allowed. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins had 14 high-danger scoring chances. New York only created four in over 80 minutes of hockey.
“We had tons of chances,” Letang said. “Their goalie made great saves. We were not able to get that goal, but we kept playing. Eventually, they are going to go in.”
Maybe. But Sorokin has stopped 116 of the 122 shots he’s faced from the Penguins in three victories during this series. If Islanders coach Barry Trotz had kept him in net for Games 2 and 3, this series may not have even gotten to a Game 5. The Islanders may have managed a second sweep of the Penguins since 2019.
“You’ve got to give him some credit. He made some big saves. We had a significant amount of scoring chances. Rebound chances. Deflection chances. Traffic at the net. There was a lot of opportunity there,” Sullivan said.
Not only do the Penguins now have to figure out how to overcome Sorokin’s goaltending, but they also need to figure out how to overcome a gut punch of a loss.
“A lot of guys in that room have seen a lot of different circumstances. We have had our backs against the wall before in various situations, and we know what it takes to win,” forward Bryan Rust said. “We were pretty strong tonight. And if we bring a game like that — maybe even better — that’s going to give us a good chance.
“I don’t think it matters if we lose 10-0 or if we lose a game like tonight. It’s the same mindset in the playoffs. You learn from it. You move on. You get better. And you try to win the next one.”
That all sounds good. But if the Penguins can’t win a game where so much went right, how will they manage to win two more if a few things go wrong?
I mean, things that may go wrong before the goalie has another chance to give the puck away in double overtime again.
I had been steadfast in saying that the Penguins would win in seven games ever since the playoff matchups were finalized. Now I fear the Islanders essentially won it in five.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.