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.”
Maybe a team changer too?