Kyle Okposo’s shootout winner capped off a thriller, as the New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 at CONSOL Energy Center on Friday night.
Okposo’s winner, which featured some dizzying stick-handling and a forehand finish, settled a back-and-forth contest between the Metropolitan Division rivals. The Islanders had two separate two-goal leads, but the Penguins rallied late forcing the division foes to go the distance in game one of a back-to-back, home-and-home set.
“This has been one of our biggest rivals over the last few years,” Matt Martin said. “Playing them back to back is going to be even more aggressive. They are the team we are chasing in the standings and we’d like two more points tomorrow. It was a good start tonight.”
The Islanders conceded the game’s first goal to Brandon Sutter 1:13 into the contest, but quickly regrouped, as Martin, Nikolay Kulemin and Ryan Strome scored three goals in 95 seconds, putting the Islanders up midway through the first.
Martin’s tally was his first of the season, as the Isles tough guy took a stretch pass from Travis Hamonic, skated down the wing and snapped a wrist shot short-side on Marc-Andre Fleury. Kulemin lit the lamp 29 seconds later, stripping Paul Martin of the puck, cutting into the slot and beating Fleury with a quick snap. Strome, who finished with a game-high three points (one goal, two assists) and the first star, rounded out the blitz, deflecting a Thomas Hickeyshot off his shin guards past the Pens goalie.
Former-Islander Blake Comeau cut into the Islanders lead at the end of the first period, but Nick Leddy restored the two-goal margin 5:42 into the second. Anders Lee and Strome worked the puck down low while Leddy pinched off the point for the one-timer.
The Penguins refused to quit, as Nick Spaling made it a 4-3 game 8:50 into the second period, while Patric Hornqvist tied the score 13 minutes into the final frame, setting up a tense, but thrilling conclusion.
“The second period was tough,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We turned some pucks over, we did some things we normally don’t do, but we were resilient and we came back. In the shootout we came through."
Both teams had grade-A chances to end the game ahead of the shootout, but neither could convert. Casey Cizikas had the Islanders best chance, but deflected the puck off the post on a two-on-one with Martin with five minutes to play, while Hickey tipped a puck over the net with 11 seconds to go in regulation.
The Penguins had their opportunity in overtime, when Kris Letang nearly won the game on a wraparound, but Johnny Boychuk stuffed Letang’s opportunity on the Isles goal line, forcing the bonus round.
“We won the game, but we think we can still be better,” Stome said. “There are a lot of things to draw from that, but to come out with the win and not play our best is a good feeling.”
The win improved the Islanders record to 5-0 in overtime/shootout contests, as well as preserved the Islanders perfect record (7-0-0) when leading after two periods.
The Islanders and Penguins don’t have a lot of time to digest Friday’s game, as the rivals renew hostilies Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.