The Islanders staged another close and heated battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum, but the home team left with only one point, falling 3-2 in overtime.
Kyle Okposo continued his inspired play against the Penguins, scoring both Islanders goals en route to a two-goal lead. He was matched by Sidney Crosby, who tied the score in the third and won the game in overtime. It was the third Isles-Pens game this season to be decided in the final two minutes of play.
“In the third period I didn’t think we had the same jam,” Okposo said. “We didn’t get at them like we did in the first two periods. We have to do a better job of closing out games.”
The Islanders pushed the pace against the Penguins in the first period and opened up a 2-0 lead before the 13-minute mark. Okposo entered the Pens zone with speed and put a harmless-looking backhand on net that caromed off Kris Letang and found its way behind Marc-Andre Fleury at 9:53. The play was reviewed, as John Tavares crashed the net hard, but the call stood.
Just over three minutes later, Okposo beat Fleury again with a slap shot from the half boards. Fleury caught a piece of the puck, but could not hold on as it trickled across the line at 12:55.
The Penguins threatened late in the first period, with a 5-on-3 power play, but the home team managed to take the lead into the first intermission. The Islanders found themselves in a similar shorthanded situation at the end of the second period, but couldn’t hold off the Penguins power play. Evgeni Malkin flipped a no-look backhand pass from behind the net to James Neal, who cut the Islanders lead to one with 16 seconds left in the period.
“We played hard and got rewarded with two early goals,” Thomas Vanek said. “But they just kept getting opportunities on the power play and it’s a good power play. It’s what got them back in the game.”
The Penguins took that momentum into the third period, outshooting the Islanders five-to-nothing and forcing them to take another penalty.
The Islanders were almost able to turn the penalty into a positive, as Frans Nielsen was awarded a shorthanded penalty shot after being slashed by Letang on a breakaway. Nielsen deked forehand-backhand-forehand, but couldn’t raise the puck over a stretched-out Fleury.
“We needed to get that third one,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “We hit the post (once) and the penalty shot was a good opportunity too, but he made a good save on Nielsen.”
The missed opportunity bit the Islanders 67 seconds later, as Crosby one-timed the first of his two goals. The Penguins power play finished 2-for-5, while the Islanders went 0-for-2.
In net, Anders Nilsson stopped 31-of-34 shots, while Fleury stopped 21-of-23. The Isles don’t play the Pens again until Jan. 23, but are back in action Thursday, as they travel to St. Louis to take on the Blues. Puck drop in Missouri is at 8 p.m. eastern time.
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