PITTSBURGH -- Early in the second period of the Islanders' win in Pittsburgh on Friday night New York's Kyle Okposo engaged Matt Niskanen in a fight that ended with the Penguins defenseman leaving the ice covered in his own blood.
The fact that the Islanders scored less than 20 seconds after the fight and added two more goals over the remainder of the game makes this an easy moment to pick out and say, Yeah, that's where the Islanders won it.
It was even something that was brought up repeatedly in the Islanders' locker room and coach Jack Capuano's press conference after the game.
"I was just trying to give the team a little bit of a jump and the fight seemed to energize us a little bit," Okposo said.
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There was talk about sparking the team and standing up for teammates.
"It's a close-knit group," Capuano said in response to a question about what the fight meant for the team. "Those things are going to happen during the course of a hockey game and Kyle stuck up for one of his teammates.
"It sparked us a little bit and that's what leaders do for your hockey club. After that fight, and even before that I thought we were playing really good hockey, but it's nice to see a guy stick up for his teammate."
Capuano only touched on it briefly, but he made a key point in that answer that probably won't get anywhere enough attention. I'll repeat it, because it's worth repeating: "Even before that (the fight) I thought we were playing really good hockey."
And he's exactly right. And that's why the Islanders were able to come back and win. That's what changed the game. At the time of the fight the Islanders were already in complete control of the game, even if the score (3-1) didn't accurately show it.
The Penguins looked slower, were often caught in transition, which gave the Islanders ample oppurtunities to generate chances, and were getting outplayed for the majority of the game to that point.
The Islanders gave up two early goals in the first period to fall behind, but started to pick up their game not long after that and were playing the type of hockey they wanted to play all along. They controlled the puck so much in the first period that they were able to put 20 shots on Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. At the time of the fight, which came five minutes into the second period, the Islanders had already attempted 41 shots (goals, saves, misses, and blocks) and managed to put 24 on net. They were averaging a shot on goal every minute.
By comparison, the Penguins had only attempted 23 shots and managed to get only 15 on net.
There was no momentum to turn. The Islanders were already controlling the game and if they were able to maintain that pressure (and they did) those goals were going to come for them (and they did) whether that fight happened or not. New York continued to use its speed to outrace the Penguins to loose pucks and beat them in transition, continued to throw pucks at the net from every angle, and had a few bounces finally go their way (and that's the benefit of getting 42 shots in a game. Sometimes the coin comes up heads and you get some goals out of it).
The turning point in the game, and in the early part of this series, wasn't a fight. It was when the Islanders found a way to get back to their style of play, get pucks at the net, and crash in around Fleury to cause havoc around his crease.
The mind set that a fight changes momentum like that is the same sort of mentality that has a team like Toronto dressing two fighters on its fourth line in a playoff game. It's the same sort of mentality that results in the Islanders starting its fourth line in Game 2 (which they did) to send some sort of a physical message, and then get scored on 43 seconds in because the home team was able to counter with its skill guys (the fact the Islanders came back and won doesn't make this decision any better).
Fights are popular and the crowd goes crazy when two guys drop the gloves and start punching each other in the face, but they rarely, if ever, swing hockey games.
This is a game where a fight is credited with turning it around and helping to change the outcome, even though the game had already started to shift long before the fight even took place.