UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The New York Islanders battered goalie Brent Johnson with their sticks and fists and didn’t need any help from Rick DiPietro to do it.
Just nine days after Johnson beat the Islanders in Pittsburgh and flattened DiPietro with a one-punch takedown in a rare goalie fight, the Islanders responded offensively and physically in a 9-3 victory on Friday night.
The teams combined for 65 penalties that totalled 346 minutes and included 10 ejections. There were 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts in the game that set records for both teams for most combined penalty minutes and left few players around to finish it.
Things were so heated, that a fence between the two dressing rooms was shut during a hallway lockdown. NHL suspensions will likely be a result, too.
“It was a pretty entertaining affair, and we’ll take the two points,” said Islanders forward John Tavares. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.
“It just wouldn’t stop. But it just shows that we’ll do anything for each other.”
The Islanders were still bitter about the previous meeting, in which they were shut out for the second straight time in Pittsburgh. On top of that, they lost DiPietro for four-to-six weeks because of broken bones in his face as the result of Johnson’s devastating left punch.
New York also lost forward Blake Comeau to a concussion sustained from a hit by Max Talbot, who was a target of the Islanders’ anger in the rematch.
Talbot was jumped by Matt Martin in the second to ignite the first brawl. He then fought callup Micheal Haley in the third before Haley skated down the ice to get in his licks on Johnson, too.
Haley became an instant favourite among the 12,888 fans in attendance, who probably never heard of him before his recall from Bridgeport of the AHL on Friday. But they chanted his name every time there was another dustup, long after he was kicked out.
“He’s a great kid,” tough guy Zenon Konopka said. “We went through training camp with him, and we just fell in love with him right away.
“He immediately became a part of our family. So, here comes Cousin Mike, and he gives us something to build off.”
The Islanders and Penguins will meet once more April 8 on Long Island. If bad blood still remains then it will likely be boiling on Pittsburgh’s side.
“A guy who would challenge a goalie—it’s kind of a cheap move,” Penguins defenceman Kris Letang said of Haley. “So I think we’re going to play our game, but there are going to be consequences.”
Letang spoke in soft tones, but his anger was clear. Letang was felled in the final seconds of the first by a slash on his leg from Tavares. It took some time for him to regain feeling and get to his feet, but he was able to finish the game.
When they were actually playing hockey, Tavares, Matt Moulson and rookie Michael Grabner all scored their 20th goals of the season. New York scored four goals in the first and four more in the second.
The second-period brawl was just the appetizer for a third-period donnybrook—in which Johnson fought again—that caused a delay of about 15 minutes. With multiple ejections, both benches had only a handful of players on them for the final 12-plus minutes.
“The first half of the game was a hockey game, and the second was not,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “I certainly didn’t anticipate the third period looking like that.
“At that point we were going out to play and play hard and not put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves or anything else. I wasn’t expecting quite what we got.”
New York chased Johnson 3:46 into the second period when Haley made it 6-0 on the Islanders’ 16th shot. As Johnson skated to the backup goalie seat in the tunnel leading to the Penguins’ dressing room, he was showered with an avalanche of boos from the unusually large crowd that clearly remembered what he did to DiPietro.
But his night wasn’t over. Johnson returned at the start of the third and got bowled over 1:19 in when Grabner was knocked into him by a hard hit from Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik.
The second huge brawl broke out at 4:47, and Haley had two fights in the melee—first with Talbot and then with Johnson after the goalie skated out toward the blue-line. Haley charged after him, and both players dropped their gloves and started punching.
Eric Godard jumped off the Pittsburgh bench to get involved and try to protect the Penguins’ netminder.
Haley’s actions caught Johnson by surprise.
“He just came down. I don’t know. It’s all a blur right now,” Johnson said. “One of those things in hockey that just kind of happens.
“I feel responsible for some of the bad stuff that happened to us early on and this is one we have to put behind us.”
The second major uprising was sparked by New York enforcer Trevor Gillies’ elbow that left Eric Tangradi prone on the ice. Tangradi was recalled Friday from Wilkes Barre/Scranton of the AHL. Godard and Haley were both ejected with double game misconducts. Godard could be in line for an automatic 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to join a fight.
Bylsma said Tangradi was examined by the Islanders’ doctors and showed signs of concussion-like symptoms.
Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams and Gillies were also booted from the game. Johnson was forced to remain in the net and heard boos and derisive chants during the final minutes.
Travis Hamonic, Jesse Joensuu, and P.A. Parenteau added goals for the Islanders, who earned their second win in two days after beating Montreal on the road in a shootout on Thursday night. Mikko Koskinen earned both wins—his first two in the NHL.
Moulson and Grabner both added second goals to give them a team-leading 21 as the Islanders broke out with their highest-scoring game of the season. Grabner provided the final punch with a short-handed breakaway goal with 2:09 remaining in the game.
Letang, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy scored power-play goals for Pittsburgh, which won at home in overtime against Los Angeles on Thursday and will play at the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. It hardly mattered in this one that the Penguins were again without all-stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The melee in the second came when Martin jumped Talbot in the neutral zone. The Islanders had made Talbot a marked man because of his hit against Comeau, who hasn’t played since.
“We know they might try to bump Johnny a little bit,” Orpik said. “I don’t know what they were so frustrated about.
“Johnny got into a fight with their goalie, who was very willing, and you’ve got guys like Trevor Gillies who are out to hurt people. The league takes care of all that stuff, and I’m sure they will.”
Martin’s actions sparked fights between unlikely brawlers Josh Bailey of the Islanders and Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Hamonic and Penguins forward Mike Rupp, and another matchup of Martin and Deryk Engelland.
Bailey was ejected following his first NHL fight along with teammates Martin and Hamonic, and Pittsburgh’s Engelland, Rupp and Dupuis. Martin was also hit with an instigator penalty and a separate 10-minute misconduct.
Marc-Andre Fleury allowed two goals on nine shots in 16 minutes 14 seconds of action in the second. Johnson then returned for his rough third. He was slow in getting back to his skates after being down in a snow-angel position for a few moments after being hit by Grabner before his fight.
NOTES—Haley, who played in his third career NHL game, had 144 penalty minutes in 50 games at Bridgeport this season. … In addition to the absence of Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins were also without forwards Matt Cooke (suspension), Arron Asham (upper body), Mike Comrie (hip), Chris Kunitz (lower body), Mark Letestu (lower body). … The Penguins hadn’t allowed nine goals since an 9-0 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 8, 2003.