John Tavares’ goal midway through the third period snapped a 4-4 tie, and Casey Cizikas scored with a minute remaining to cap off a three-goal third period as the New York Islanders earned a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum.
After losing two leads early in the game and overcoming a pair of deficits later in the contest, Tavares’ goal finally put the Islanders in front for good, leveling the best-of-seven series at two games apiece, before the teams head back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday.
“We showed resiliency and we’ve shown it all season and series long,” Brian Strait said. “No matter what happens, we’re never rattled. We never waver from our plan, we just keep pushing forward. It was a good one, so I’m going to enjoy it now, but tomorrow it’ll be time to get ready for Game 5.”
Strait’s first NHL goal put the Islanders ahead 1-0 in the first period. The defenseman controlled the puck at the left point and was fading away from the net when he threw a shot towards the crease. The puck went off a Penguins defenseman and in at 14:05. Lubomir Visnovsky and Cizikas earned assists on the play.
Pittsburgh evened the score just 45 seconds later. James Neal one-timed an Evgeni Malkin feed from a hard angle on the right side and found space between Evgeni Nabokov and the goal post.
The Islanders could not convert on three power plays in the first period, but added to their lead in the second after Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke was sent off for goaltender interference at 5:48. Mark Streit ripped a point shot 31 seconds into the man advantage that caromed through traffic and in for a 2-0 lead.
Once again, the advantage was short-lived, as Malkin tied the score 58 seconds later with his second goal of the series. The centerman took the Islanders zone on a two-on-one and pinpointed his shot around Nabokov.
Four minutes later, Pittsburgh took their first lead of the evening. After Matt Carkner and Cooke got tied up to the side of the goal, Brandon Sutter fired a shot from the left circle that went off of Nabokov’s shoulder and in.
The Penguins looked poised to skate to intermission with a lead until Kyle Okposo tied things up from behind the goal line with his third goal in as many games. The winger threw the puck at Marc-Andre Fleury and it crossed the line as Cizikas jumped in to try to push it over at the 18:36 mark.
The Penguins reclaimed the lead with a quick strike early in the third, when Chris Kunitz’ shot caromed off of Dupuis and past Nabokov to make it 4-3.
From there, the Islanders scored three unanswered goals to take control of the game. Streit knotted the contest at 4-4 off a feed from Cizikas. The defenseman caught Fleury leaning the wrong way, and beat the goaltender on his glove side at 4:30 for his second goal of the game.
“I just got the puck in the slot and one of our players was on the left side. At first, I thought I was going to shoot at one of our forwards on the left for a tip, but then the D covered him. I just shot it at the other side instead because I saw Zeeker there. Then it hit something in front. I just tried to get it on net. It’s a fortunate goal, but I’ll take it any day.”
The game remained deadlocked until the middle of the stanza, when Brad Boyes forced a turnover in the Pittsburgh zone and fed Tavares in the middle of the ice. The center slalomed around two defenders and patiently picked his shot. Fleury made a pad save on the first attempt, but Tavares got the rebound around his pad, bringing the crowd to their feet.
The goal was Tavares 29th of 2013 and his 14th third-period marker. Head Coach Jack Capuano said that the 22-year-old rose to the occasion in a crucial contest.
"He's an elite player and he's going to get the attention that elite players get, but Johnny elevated his game tonight," Capuano said.
The Islanders withstood a surge from the visiting team late in the third period, and as Fleury was skating to the bench for an extra attacker, the Islanders gained control of the puck. The Penguins netminder backtracked into his crease, but Cizikas got around a defenseman and tucked the puck around him with 1:16 remaining.
Cizikas finished the game with a goal, two assists and a game-high plus-4 rating.
“I knew what time it was in the game, how late it was,” Cizikas said. “I didn’t want to risk pulling up or doing something fancy; that’s not part of my game. So I just figured I’d drop the hammer and go wide on him.”
The series shifts back to CONSOL Energy Center for Game 5 on Thursday. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.
"Tonight was a good win," Tavares said. "We've got to move on and it's going to be a tough one on Thursday. We know they're going to bring their best. So are we and we're obviously going to want it really bad."
Notes: With the win, the Islanders assure that Game 6 will be played at Nassau Coliseum on May 11 … The Islanders went 1-for-4 on the power play, while Pittsburgh went 0-for-2 … Travis Hamonic led all players with 28:42 of ice time … The Penguins out-shot the Islanders 31-24, including 24-14 over the final 40 minutes … The Islanders out-hit Pittsburgh 33-26, including a game-high seven from Matt Martin … Hamonic and Evgeni Malkin were assessed fighting majors at the end of regulation … The Islanders won 29-of-54 draws, led by Frans Nielsen (9-of-14, 64-percent) … Mark Streit led all players with five blocked shots.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 9 Pascal Dupuis
18 James Neal - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 12 Jarome Iginla
10 Brenden Morrow - 36 Jussi Jokinen - 24 Matt Cooke
15 Tanner Glass - 16 Brandon Sutter - 27 Craig Adams
4 Mark Eaton - 58 Kris Letang
44 Brooks Orpik - 7 Paul Martin
3 Douglas Murray - 2 Matt Niskanen
29 Marc-Andre Fleury
92 Tomas Vokoun