PITTSBURGH — Ross Johnston hasn’t had much to hang his hat on this season. At times, it’s looked as though the Islanders could waive the 29-year-old, who skated in just his 13th game Monday, with numerous prospects having gotten a chance over him throughout the year.
Still, if the lasting image Johnston provides Islanders fans is what happened toward the end of the second period on Monday night — him screaming at Jason Zucker and imploring his teammates to “Come on” following a fracas between the Isles and Penguins — then, well, everyone involved will be completely fine with that.
When the Penguins collectively decided they’d had enough of the Islanders’ physical play, seemingly over hits on superstar Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they led Monday’s game and had largely controlled it. At the end of the night, the Islanders had scored a stunning comeback 4-2 victory, fueled by the moment where — led by Johnston — they stuck up for each other.
“I don’t know [what started it],” Johnston said. “When you’re in, you just defend your teammates. I don’t know what started it, what didn’t start it. When you see a teammate in battle, you’re gonna join that battle with them.”
The shoving started while everyone in the building was still reacting to an absurd paddle save by Ilya Sorokin on Kris Letang, and took an age to sort out. Once a number of players were already in the box, including Johnston, with the scene seemingly settled down, Malkin started throwing punches. At the end of it, Johnston and Zucker were both assessed 10-minute misconducts while eight other players got two-minute minors.
Johnston finished the night with just 4:34 time on ice and all the impact that might have come if he’d played 20 minutes.
“We needed to up our intensity a bit and be harder on them in the game,” Matt Martin, who was also involved, said. “We were allowing them to do a little too much in the D-zone, and they got some of the best players in the world who can capitalize if you give them space. So I think we committed to doing that a little more, and then tempers started to flare.”
At the second intermission, Johnston described the room as “just camaraderie” following the galvanizing moment, which Zucker punctuated by firing up the PPG Paints Arena crowd from the penalty box.
“You want to beat them that much more,” Martin said.
“It’s just a family at the end of the day,” Johnston said. “We’re all here together. When something happens, we’re all gonna stick together.”
Arnaud Durandeau had a successful NHL debut, recording four shots over 14:09 and finishing plus-1.
Lambert said that Josh Bailey and Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s injuries would be reevaluated upon the team’s return to New York. Neither made the trip to Boston and Pittsburgh.