PITTSBURGH — Tristan Jarry challenged himself to simply be better following a shaky performance in Pittsburgh’s playoff opener.
Admittedly, the soft-spoken goaltender knew the bar wasn’t particularly high. Not after giving up four goals – most of them on relatively innocuous shots – in a Game 1 loss to the New York Islanders.
Two nights later, Jarry looked like the player whose steady play helped propel the Penguins to the East Division title. Solid at the start and stoic at the finish, Jarry turned aside 37 shots as Pittsburgh evened the series with a 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Tuesday night.
“I mean, that’s his old self, that’s his game,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said of Jarry. “That’s what we expect from him. I don’t think it was anything out of the ordinary for him, as crazy as that sounds. He plays at such a high level for us, to call that his norm is pretty impressive and is a testament to how good of a goalie he is.”
The victory was the first in the playoffs for Jarry as the Penguins won for just the second time in their last 12 postseason games.
Game 3 is Thursday night in New York.
Jarry, in his first season as Pittsburgh’s unquestioned No. 1 goalie after two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray was traded away last fall, stressed he didn’t try to complicate things after four sometimes iffy periods in the opener.
“I was just playing it how it lied,” Jarry said. “That’s a big thing for me I’m just trying to stop everything that comes at me, put my best foot forward and try and get in the way of it.”
The Penguins needed Jarry to get in front of every one of them during a taut third period as they clutched a one-goal lead.
The last 90 seconds were the most fraught after a delay-of-game penalty by Pittsburgh forward Bryan Rust gave the Islanders their only power play of the night. Yet Jarry turned aside a wrist shot by Oliver Wahlstrom with 1:12 remaining and the largest crowd to watch a game in Pittsburgh in 14 months exhaled when the final horn sounded.
“That was probably the biggest moment of our season as of yet and (the penalty kill) came through,” Matheson said.
Varlamov, unavailable for Game 1, made 43 saves, including several highlight-reel stops in the third period to keep it close. Josh Bailey’s slick backhand in the later stages of the second period drew the Islanders within a goal but unlike in Game 1, this time there would be no full-blown rally.
“I just thought (the Penguins) had more desperation in their game,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought we were a little bit light in some areas. We didn’t make it hard enough on them. We just have to raise our level. We have that.”
New York pulled off a 4-3 overtime stunner in Game 1 on Sunday, taking advantage of Jarry’s sloppy play on his left (glove) side. The Penguins insisted there was no time to panic, expressing confidence in both Jarry and their ability to rebound.
And just like Game 1, Pittsburgh came out flying.
Energized by the largest crowd at PPG Paints Arena this season after COVID-19 protocols were eased to allow 50% capacity, the Penguins overwhelmed the Islanders in the opening 20 minutes, even with Russian star Evgeni Malkin sitting out again with an undisclosed health issue.
Varlamov looked a little rusty in his first start in over a week. Rust gave the Penguins the lead 3:22 when he pounced on a New York turnover and fired a knuckling wrist shot from above the right circle that found its way over Varlamov’s glove and into the net.
Carter, who has been electric at times since being acquired from Los Angeles at the trade deadline, scored the 40th playoff goal of his 16-year career at the end of a sequence in which linemates Kasperi Kapanen and Jared McCann did the heavy lifting.
Kapanen chased down the puck in the corner and flipped it behind the net to McCann while absorbing a check. McCann then centred it to Carter, who patiently dragged it across the slot before beating Varlamov between the legs.
Just as they did on Sunday, however, the Islanders appeared to find their footing as the game wore on. A pair of listless Pittsburgh power plays in the second period gave New York life, and Bailey ripped a backhand over Jarry’s shoulder 14:46 in to draw the Islanders within one, just as they were entering the third period in the opener.
Yet this time the Islanders draw even. The Penguins withstood an early push by New York and counterpunched effectively to avoid falling into a potentially fatal 0-2 hole.
“We’re a team that’s built on resilience, and that shows its face in many forms,” Rust said. “I think our guys do a really good job of focusing on playing hard hockey and just trying to do the right things.”