No. 1 Seeded Penguins Narrowly Avoid a Showdown With History
Considering the offensive firepower the Pittsburgh Penguins possess, the general consensus seemed to be that they would make short order of the No. 8 seeded New York Islanders in the first round. But the Isles were vastly underestimated, and it wasn’t a first for them in a series again the Pens.
Last night Pittsburgh knocked off New York in a heart-pounding Game 6 that ended with an overtime goal by Brooks Orpik. An unlikely hero considering it was the first playoff goal in the 77 postseason games of his career. And an unlikely win for the Pens considering the Isles dominated every phase of the game, except on the final scoreboard.
To say they didn’t walk away looking like the decisive victor is an understatement. With the exception of Game 5, in which Pittsburgh won 4-0, every game of the series went down to the wire. Or beyond the wire and into OT.
Pens starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s wildly inconsistent postseason play carried over from an abysmal series against the Flyers in 2012. He was finally benched in Game 5 of the series in favor of backup Tomas Vokoun—a season-saving decision made by coach Dan Bylsma.
Pittsburgh is lucky that their talent was just enough to overcome the speed and urgency of New York in Game 6, because the force of history may very well have driven the Islanders over the top in Game 7. Perhaps that’s why the Pens started playing like their season was on the line in the final minutes of the third period.
Had the series been extended, Game 7 would’ve been played just two days shy of the 20th anniversary since the Islanders last won a playoff series. It was on May 14, 1993 that they defeated a heavily favored Pens team in the second round of the NHL Playoffs.
The 1992-93 season was something special for the Penguins. They were the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. They were stacked with future Hall of Fame players, including a healthy Mario Lemieux who had overcome cancer earlier in the season. And they won the President’s Trophy as the league’s best regular season team, winning 17 straight games in the process.
The Pens seemed unbeatable and destined for a three-peat when they sailed through Round 1 against the New Jersey Devils, beating them 4-1. Then came the Islanders—who clearly didn’t believe in predestination. They stretched the series to an unlikely Game 7, which they won in OT when Pens goalie Tom Barrasso gave up a soft goal to a nobody named David Volek.
Hopes of a dynasty were crushed. And Volek, formerly a nobody, became a somebody who would haunt Pittsburgh sports lore for decades to come.
The 2013 Pens weren’t quite the caliber as the team two of two decades ago, but neither were the 2013 Islanders, in terms of seeding. The series played out in much the same way today as it did 20 years ago too—at least through six games. It was a goal-to-goal, game-to-game struggle that ping-ponged back and forth in dramatic fashion.
That is until, as if recognizing the forces of nature starting to align with history against them, the Penguins willed themselves to a Game 6 victory—tying the game late in the third period and finishing the Islanders off in OT. That’s not to say Pittsburgh wouldn’t technically have had a chance in Game 7, they would’ve.
Although you’d be hard pressed to find a fan of either team that was old enough to have watched and remembered the ‘93 series who didn’t think that the ghost of David Volek, and their overall momentum, would’ve carried the Isles to victory if had come to that point.
It was a date with history that the Penguins are glad they missed. And although they aren’t walking away with the same shine they had walking into the series. At least, this time, they’re walking away with a date in the next round.
The Islanders are just walking away.