The Islanders rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game, but allowed the go-ahead goal with 1:16 remaining in regulation and lost 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
Thomas Vanek scored twice in his return from an upper-body injury, but despite a gritty effort the Isles couldn’t hang on late, as Sidney Crosby tapped in the winner at 18:44 of the third.
“We worked hard and it came down to a play at the end of the game,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “We have to find a way with a minute left.”
Vanek made his presence felt after missing five games, sparking the Isles offense with two second period goals. The Austrian winger one-timed a feed past Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff to put the Isles on the board at 1:46 and showed no hesitation, crashing the net for the game-tying goal at 12:54.
The Islanders gave up an even-strength goal to Evgeni Malkin and conceded two on the penalty kill. The Isles took three first-period minors before the eight-minute mark, allowing a red-hot Chris Kunitz to score twice and the Pens to go up 2-0 after one.
“We were happy with the way we were playing when we weren’t in the box,” John Tavares said. “With the weapons they have and the way our PK has been going, we have to find a way to stay out of (the box),”
Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin preserved his club's second period rally for much of the second and third, making key saves to keep the Islanders in the game. Poulin stopped a Brandon Sutter breakaway minutes before McDonald’s goal and robbed Malkin on a breakaway in the third period. He made 30 saves in the loss, while Zatkoff made 32.
“He made the saves that he had to,” Capuano said. “He gave us a chance to win, but unfortunately we left a guy alone in front of the net with 1:16 to go.”
The Islanders finish off their fifth set of back-to-back games this season with a game against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. from Wells Fargo Center.
NOTES: Travis Hamonic played 28:09 and finished the game plus-1… Casey Cizikas extended his point streak to four games (3g/1a) with an assist on McDonald’s goal… The Islanders are 4-4-1 in back-to-back games this season.
60 Kevin Poulin
14 Chris Kunitz – 87 Sidney Crosby – 19 Beau Bennett
9 Pascal Dupuis – 71 Evgeni Malkin – 18 James Neal
49 Brian Gibbons – 36 Jussi Jokinen – 16 Brandon Sutter
15 Tanner Glass – 46 Joe Vitale – 27 Craig Adams
44 Brooks Orpik – 7 Paul Martin
3 Olli Maata – 58 Kris Letang
2 Matt Niskanen – 5 Deryk Engelland
29 Marc-Andre Fleury
37 Jeff Zatkoff