The New York Islanders completed a home-and-home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, skating to a 4-1 win in front of a sold out Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders scored four unanswered goals in the final 22 minutes, downing their bitter rivals while propelling themselves up the Metropolitan Division standings. After eight wins in nine games, the Islanders are tied atop the Metro with the flightless birds.
“We knew these games would be intense because of where we are in the standings,” Matt Martin said. “We knew how many points we were behind and they are the team we’re chasing. We came out to see where we’re at. There’s still a long ways to go, but it’s a good step.”
Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins ahead late in the first period, but Martin turned the tide for the Islanders with a goal late in the second period. The Islanders grinder potted the puck after a goal-mouth scramble, scoring the Islanders opening goal for the second straight game.
“That was a big goal at the end of the second period,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “That line has been playing real well for us. You saw how tenacious they were and how hungry they were in front of the net. They kept that play alive.”
The Islanders momentum carried into the third period, as Lee scored the eventual winner in the opening three minutes. Lee got set in front of the net and deflected a Lubomir Visnovsky shot past Penguins backup Thomas Greiss.
“We really simplified our game in the third period,” said Lee, who scored the winner at 2:38 of the final frame. “The last six or eight games, when we have that lead, we keep it really simple and it limits our mistakes.”
There was plenty of animosity between the Islanders and Penguins, but the Islanders answered punches with goals. Over the two-game set, the Islanders were shorthanded once.
“We were disciplined,” Matt Martin said. “But we were physical, we were in their face and we frustrated them.”
The Islanders added to their lead seven minutes later, taking advantage of an undisciplined Penguins penalty. Steve Downie was given a 10-minute misconduct for a late heat on Thomas Hickey and the Islanders made them pay, as Brock Nelson tapped in a cross-crease feed from Kyle Okposo.
Tavares iced the game with his eighth of the season, depositing a Johnny Boychuk rebound past Greiss.
“We’ve got a talented hockey club and everyone is committed to doing the right things,” Tavares said. “We just have a confident bunch, we’re poised and we’re playing very tenacious.”
Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves for his sixth straight win, while Greiss made 31 saves in the loss.
The Islanders shift their focus to Eastern Pennsylvania, as they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night at Nassau Coliseum. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.