During the course of Thursday night’s telecast of the Penguins-Islanders game, it was duly noted that the black and gold hadn’t earned a comeback victory in quite a while. Almost on cue, the Pens rallied from a two goal third-period deficit to scrape past the Islanders in a shootout.
Squaring off with the Isles for the second time in three nights, the Pens appeared to grab the lead at 7:30 of the first period when Jordan Staal beat Evgeni Nabokov with a crackling wrist shot for an apparent power-play goal. However, referee Justin St. Pierre immediately waved it off, claiming Matt Cooke had interfered with Nabokov.
The turn of events seemed to throw the Pens off stride, while the hustling New Yorkers amped up the pace. Late in the period Frans Nielsen beat Marc-Andre Fleury to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead.
Undaunted, the Penguins dominated the second 20 minutes, piling up a lopsided 13-2 edge in shots. But rugged Matt Martin padded the Islanders’ lead just 45 seconds into the final frame with a goal from point-blank range.
“We didn’t feel like the game was getting away from us being down one,” Chris Kunitz said. “But as soon as they scored that second one, that panic button hit a little more and we picked up the tempo.”
Forty-four seconds later Kris Letang ripped off a shot-pass to Pascal Dupuis, who was stationed to the right of the New York net. The hardworking winger corralled the rubber and pushed it to Kunitz at the far side of the crease. “Kuny” promptly banged the puck home to cut the Islanders’ lead in half.
At 2:46 the Pens struck for a power-play goal, courtesy of some brilliant tape-to-tape passing. Letang ignited the tic-tac-toe sequence when he fed Evgeni Malkin at the top of the right-wing circle. “Geno” quickly dished a cross-ice pass to Kunitz, who swiftly moved the puck to James Neal near the right post. No. 18 pulled the trigger and whipped the puck past Nabokov for his league-best ninth goal of the season.
Richard Park was whistled off for hooking at 5:04, handing the Islanders a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead. But Fleury made three huge saves to thwart a rapid-fire salvo and keep the score knotted at 2-2.
Following a brisk overtime period the game went to a shootout. The Pens were shocked when Islanders’ coach Jack Capuano pulled an injured Nabokov in favor of Rick DiPietro.
“It was a surprise for me and the whole team,” Malkin said. “Nabokov played a great game.”
No. 71 soon would be crowned the hero. Swooping down the left side, Geno faked a move to his backhand and slipped the puck beneath DiPietro’s right pad for the game-winner.
Kunitz (a goal and an assist) was voted the No. 1 star … The Penguins were 1-5 on the power play (20 percent on the season) … Malkin earned second-star honors … Geno won 14 out of 22 face-offs … The Pens out-shot the Islanders 32-19 … Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Mark Letestu, Steve MacIntyre, Zbynek Michalek, and Brian Strait were scratches.
The Penguins (8-2-2) trek north of the border to challenge Colby Armstrong and the surprising Maple Leafs (6-2-1) on Saturday. The Pens hold a slight edge in the all-time series (71-67-22).
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.