The Islanders couldn’t complete a third-straight comeback Thursday night, falling 6-4 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum.
After jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, the Islanders gave up four unanswered goals to the Penguins, falling behind 4-2 by the second intermission. Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo’s third-period goals kept the game tight, but Evgeni Malkin’s marker at 5:59 of the third held up as the game winner.
“We came out really well and then we didn’t play well until the last 12 minutes of the game,” captain John Tavares said. “They played a good road game and they did a lot of the little things and executed better than us for most of the game.”
Trailing 5-4 in the final frame, the Islanders earned a two-man advantage, but could not convert against the league’s top penalty kill. Frans Nielsen had a grade-A chance off a cross-crease feed from Bailey, but the Danish winger couldn’t lift the puck over Jeff Zatkoff’s left pad to tie the score.
“I have to get it up,” Nielsen said. “I hit his pads a couple of times. It’s tough when you get a chance like that on a five-on-three. We have to be better.”
Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each had a goal and two assists for the Penguins, who took the season series six points-to-three and ended the Islanders’ two-game winning streak.
The night started off well, as the Islanders were up 2-0 8:21 into the first period. Michael Grabner swooped in on a loose puck near the slot and picked the top corner on Zatkoff at 1:39. Less than seven minutes later, Brock Nelson raced in on a two-on-one rush and beat Zatkoff to put the Islanders up by two.
The Penguins responded 71 seconds later, as Kunitz beat Kevin Poulin with a one-time feed from Crosby. The duo switched roles on the Penguins next goal, as Crosby – who was stationed in the Islanders crease – tapped in a Kunitz pass from below the goal line.
“On the first goal, we are three feet from the guy who scores,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “On the second goal we get beat to the front of the net. We’re there, but we’re not there. We have to make sure that we defend harder.”
Olli Maatta put the Penguins ahead in the second period, as the defenseman skated through the Islanders zone, cut across the slot and chipped his fifth of the season past Poulin. Letang then put the Pens up 4-2, as the league’s top power play converted after a lengthy cycle.
“You can’t give Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin, [James] Neal and [Kris] Letang – the list goes on – time and space because they are going to make plays,” Capuano said. “They are a high-powered team.”
Down 4-2, the Islanders made a push early in the third, as Bailey beat Zatkoff with a low hard shot to the stick side. Malkin restored the Penguins two-goal lead, but Okposo slipped the puck through a dogpile to bring the Islanders back within a goal. After the Islanders failed to convert on the 50-second, five-on-three advantage, Brandon Sutter iced the game with an empty-netter with four seconds to play.
The Islanders continue their four-game homestand Saturday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues. Puck drop is at 1:00 p.m.
NOTES: Bailey’s goal was his first since a game-winner on Oct. 25… Okposo’s third-period goal was his 52nd point of the season, matching a career-high set in 2009-10… Okposo led the Islanders with 23:19 TOI.