It was a lineup decision made for a specific situation, and turned out to be more than that.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz dressed veteran Tom Kuhnhackl against the winger’s former team, and he played a whale of a game, including two disallowed goals — if one can own disallowed goals — during the Isles’ wildly entertaining 4-3 overtime win over the Penguins in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday night at the Coliseum.
Originally, Trotz had said the decision to play Kuhnhackl over 22-year-old Michael Dal Colle was because of the veteran’s penalty-killing prowess and his experience, having won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. But it turned out to be quite a bit more than that.
“He was dancing, he was skating,” Trotz said after playing Kuhnhackl 17:42 on the right side of a line with Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson. “The one thing about Tommy, he’s got two rings with that team across the hall. There’s a reason that he has been part of two champions. When the moment is big, he knows how to be big in that moment.”
Kuhnhackl, 27, signed a one-year, $700,000 deal this summer, and played just 36 games for the club in the regular season. But he made an immediate impact in the postseason, beating goalie Matt Murray by picking a top corner 33 seconds into the game, a goal pulled off the scoreboard after this former coach, Mike Sullivan, challenged for Matt Martin being offside.
Kuhnhackl then had another possible goal called no good when he barreled into Murray early in overtime, the puck crossing the goal line but his contact with the goalie keeping it no goal.
“I’ve seen him a lot from the other side,” Trotz said. “We were fortunate. When we were trying to build this, we were looking for people like Tommy — for these moments. I thought he was outstanding.”
Robin Lehner made his first career postseason start and was terrific in making 41 saves. Lehner, who had come in relief in two playoff games with the Senators in 2013, split time in nets this season with Thomas Greiss. The two shared the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals of any team this season.
Trotz said he wouldn’t hesitate to use both goalies this series, but it was Lehner for Game 1 and it paid off.
“Robin made some huge saves at the right time,” Trotz said. “He was good.”
Trotz had said that going into this series, “You’d give them the edge on the special teams, there’s no question. But it’s a new season.”
The Penguins fifth-ranked power play went 1-for-3, while the Islanders 29th-ranked unit went 1-for-2.
Joining Dal Colle as healthy scratches were defensemen Thomas Hickey, Luca Sbisa and Dennis Seidenberg, along with pugilistic forward Ross Johnston.
Published at Thu, 11 Apr 2019 08:23:56 +0000