It’s officially time to start marking your calendars every time the Penguins face the Isles. The star-power present when Washington and Pittsburgh face off isn’t quite there. And the games usually aren’t as heated as the ones between the Pens and Flyers. There usually aren’t even points on the line as the Islanders have missed the playoffs four years in a row. But man, these division rivals, playing for the second time in three nights, combine for some nail-biting hockey.
Thursday night was no different, as it took 65 minutes of play, including another frantic third-period push by the Pens, and a shootout featuring a rare goalie swap to decide another one-goal game between the two Atlantic teams.
“(The Islanders) battle hard, they’re a fast, aggressive, young team…they seem to have our number a little bit,” Penguins’ forward Pascal Dupuis said after the game. “But two out of two (against them) – that’s not a bad start for this year.”
The Isles definitely seemed to have Pittsburgh’s number early on Thursday, gaining a two-goal lead by scoring with 1:01 left in the first period, and then 45 seconds into the third period.
The Pens rebounded quickly, though, tying the game with goals by Chris Kunitz and James Neal in a 2:46 span.
Evgeni Malkin’s shootout goal, the only one from six shooters, beat cold substitute Rick Dipietro to finish off the comeback. Dipietro, playing for the first time this season, was relieving Evgeni Nabokov because the starter apparently was injured sometime in the first period.
“He’s got great moves in practice that he shows off,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “Tonight, that was a spectacular move. He had to change direction when DiPietro made the poke check… He made an awesome move. I think it’s him having a little more swagger, trying some of the moves he does have. He’s done it a couple times this year. Tonight was just outstanding.”
Dipietro did make saves on Kris Letang and Neal, so Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had to come up with big stops on Frans Neilsen, P.A. Parenteau and John Tavares.
April 3, 2010 was the last time the Penguins won a game in which they were trailing after two periods.
Jordan Staal thought he had gotten on the board first when his shot from the left dot beat Nabokov glove-side. The referee quickly waved off the goal, however, as Matt Cooke’s attempt to screen the Islanders goalie actually resulted in incidental contact with Nabokov’s glove hand.
Later in the opening period, Fleury got lucky after he fumbled a puck behind his own net. With no defenders to stop him, Islanders forward Blake Comeau rounded the cage for what should have been an easy empty-net goal, had he not lost his edge on the way.
The Islanders did break through when Frans Neilsen jumped on Kyle Okposo’s rebound and slipped a close-range shot under Fleury’s left pad with time running out in the first. Okposo actually had his stick between his legs when he redirected Mark Streit’s initial shot.
After a second period where the Pens dominated in puck possession and outshot the Isles 13-2, the home team failed to cover Matt Martin, who beat Fleury with a turning shot from just outside the crease less than a minute into the final frame. Less than four minutes later, though, Kunitz and Neal would combine to forced overtime.
Kris Letang set up Kunitz’ goal by faking a shot to Dupuis, who was at the Islanders goal line. Dupuis’ initial attempt to direct the pass behind Nabokov failed, but he was able to push the puck through the crease, allowing Kunitz to tap a goal into the vacated side of the net.
Neal scored his ninth goal of the season off of a perfectly set-up play on the man-advantage to tie the game at 4:15. Evgeni Malkin’s pass through the slot found Kunitz in front of the net. Kunitz quickly re-directed the pass to Neal, who was able to one-time the puck from just outside the crease into an empty cage, as Nabokov was drawn to the opposite post.
“What a play by (Kunitz) to dish it back over to me for a one-timer in the net,” Neal said about the tic-tac-toe play. “It was a great goal at the perfect time.”
In addition to the disallowed goal, Staal had a near miss when he rung a shot off the crossbar in the second period. It happened on the same shift that he collided with Islanders’ forward John Tavares at the blue line. He appeared injured on the bench but returned to the game.
Also not showing signs of injury is Malkin. In his second game back from nagging knee soreness, he continues to dominate the ice and create chances. On the first shift of the game, he and the rest of the Penguins’ starters looked like they were on a power play for over a minute.
“He’s a ton,” Neal said of his linemate. “He just does everything so well.”
Malkin also attempted to quell any worries about his lingering injury in his post-game comments.
“It’s a big injury and I know it’s sometimes sore,” Malkin said of his knee since surgery. “But it’s just because you need a couple of days off.”
After the game, Malkin, apparently still not a fan of the media crush typically burdened by Sidney Crosby, jokingly tried to get out of his scrum when a beat writer directed a question to Kunitz, who sits in the stall next to the Russian Superstar.
“I’m done, guys?”
Not nearly, Geno.
1. Chris Kunitz
2. Evgeni Malkin
3. Matt Martin
PIT: Chris Kunitz (3), James Neal (9), Evgeni Malkin (SO)
NYI: Frans Nielsen (2), Matt Martin (1)
PIT: Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin
NYI: Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, Steve Staios, Marty Reasoner
IN THE NET:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury 17-19
NYI: Evgeni Nabokov 30-32