Penguins say focus is on playoffs, not payback against Islanders
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic fights Penguins forward Michael Rupp (right) as Islanders forward Josh Bailey battles Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis during the second period of a game Feb 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The teams meet again tonight.
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Penguins rookie Eric Tangradi has not played since Feb. 11, thanks in large part to a concussion he got that night when Trevor Gillies of the New York Islanders drove an elbow into Tangradi's head -- then stood over the injured winger and taunted him.
Since that ugly, penalty-pocked, 9-3 Islanders win, Tangradi has recovered but has not cracked the lineup. He might not be on the ice tonight for the rematch on Long Island, considering he skated on a fifth line in practice Thursday at Southpointe.
He is clear he does not want his teammates to exact some payback.
"Not at this point, no," Tangradi said. "There's too many important things that are going on besides one incident. I think everyone, including myself, would rather see us leave the building with a win than have anything happen."
Game: Penguins at New York Islanders, 7:08 p.m. today, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV, radio, Internet: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Rick DiPietro for Islanders.
Penguins: Are 11-9-3 inside Atlantic Division. ... 58 road points among most in NHL. ... Kris Letang one point shy of 50 for season, one assist shy of 100 for career.
Islanders: Are 6-12-4 inside Atlantic. ... Their 38 home points among least in NHL. ... Michael Grabner leads league rookies with 33 goals.
Of note: Islanders lead NHL with 15 short-handed goals.
That was the overwhelming sentiment in the Penguins' dressing room before the team flew out for a two-game road trip to end the regular season with playoff seeding and home-ice advantage still in the balance.
"In my book, it's like going into any other building. We want to get the win and head into the playoffs hot," said backup goaltender Brent Johnson, who started for the Penguins in that Feb. 11 game -- and at one point threw down his gloves to fight hard-charging Islanders rookie center Micheal Haley. He is expected to start again tonight.
The Islanders are an afterthought on the NHL radar, 14th in the Eastern Conference and far out of the playoffs. The Penguins are fourth in the East with 102 points.
That Feb. 11 game garnered a lot of attention for and within the NHL.
There were 346 penalty minutes, including 15 fighting majors and 21 misconducts. The NHL fined the Islanders $100,000 and issued three suspensions -- 10 games automatically to Penguins enforcer Eric Godard for coming off the bench to help Johnson against Haley, Gillies nine games, and Matt Martin, who tried to clobber Penguins forward Max Talbot from the blind side, four games.
Penguins co-owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux was incensed at the spectacle and what he called in a statement a "travesty" and a "sideshow." He said the league failed "to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport."
Lemieux later sent the league a proposed set of automatic and escalating fines for teams whose players are suspended to perhaps serve as a deterrent to such behavior.
The Islanders' outbursts apparently stemmed from the Penguins' 3-0 win nine nights earlier at Consol Energy Center, when Johnson fought opposing goaltender Rick DiPietro, breaking a bone in DiPietro's face, and Talbot left New York winger Blake Comeau with a concussion from a non-penalized hit.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he spoke to his team twice and would again, telling them to play it straight tonight. He expects both teams today will hear from the NHL, a stern message that no doubt will advise against further shenanigans.
It's thought that high-ranking officials from the NHL, perhaps including commissioner Gary Bettman, will be at Nassau Coliseum.
"We have no intention of repeating what happened in February," Bylsma said. "However, what happened in February was largely done to us, so we did have to react."
The Islanders weren't in much of a position to argue with Bylsma's point.
"The suspensions were probably warranted," Martin told reporters in New York. "The game did get a little bit out of control, but that's hockey sometimes. It's a funny sport. You're able to kind of stick up for each other and fight for each other. There is no other sport you can really do that.
"I'm not going to go against the league here and say we're angels. Some things were kind of taken overboard, and I am the first to admit that, but no one is a bad guy in [the Islanders' locker room]."
Bylsma declined to say whether he might dress rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland, who has been a healthy scratch the past five games, or Godard, who hasn't played since he finished serving his suspension. Godard, like Tangradi, practiced Thursday on a fifth line.
Whether or to what extent the Penguins will need to defend themselves remains to be seen.
"The game blew up there a little bit," Gillies said. "That's over and done with. We're just trying to get better every day in practice and every game and carry this over into next year.
"If the bell needs to be answered, we've got the guys to answer it. Besides that, it's just another hockey game."
Fallout from the Feb. 11 game didn't hurt the Islanders. They are 12-9-5 since.
Haley, who was recalled for that game and made his season debut that night, thinks the climate likely will be different this time.
"They're in the playoffs, so they'll be worried about that," he said. "It's tough to say what could happen. I am sure there will still be emotions, but I don't know if it will be like last time."
If it's up to the Penguins -- "I've come to the conclusion that it's probably in their hands how the game is going to be played out," Islanders and NHL penalty-minutes leader Zenon Konopka said -- there will be no funny stuff.
"I think we'd rather just play a hockey game," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We have the playoffs to worry about, and I don't think anyone needs to break a hand or a finger or pop a shoulder out doing something stupid now.
"We have a lot more to lose than they do right now."
First Published April 8, 2011 12:00 am