Kyle Okposo scored four goals Friday night, willing the Islanders to a 6-3 comeback win over the Penguins in front of a sold out Nassau Coliseum.
Okposo put the Islanders on the board in the first period, tied the game early in the third and scored the eventual winner with 8:09 to play for his first career hat trick. Each goal got progressively prettier and even after the hats rained down on the Coliseum ice, Okposo added one for good measure.
“I get pretty fired up to play these guys,” Okposo said. “That was a pretty fun game for our team and for me personally. I haven’t had a hat trick in the NHL. It’s a big one and a huge win for our team.
Okposo’s night stole the headlines from what was a solid gutcheck win for the Islanders, who rallied from an early hole and became only the third team in 21 tries to beat the Penguins when leading after two periods.
“We’ve had that [never-say-die] mentality all year,” Okposo said. “We’ve given up the first goal a little more than we would have liked, but I thought we responded well, especially in the third period. They scored with four seconds left in the second and we could have hung our heads, but I thought we did a really good job sticking with it and playing our game in the third.”
The Islanders didn’t just come back in the third, they exploded for four goals in the final 20 minutes.
“You never like to give up a goal late in the period, but we collected ourselves,” Ryan Strome said. “It was a big test for us. We had to send a message, not only to them, but ourselves. We did that and fed off the energy of the building and each other. That’s a pretty good comeback win.”
The Metropolitan Division lead was on the line Friday and with the win, the Islanders created some separation between themselves and the Penguins and became the first team to 30 wins.
“Whenever you have those divisional games, they are four-point games and those can be big swings,” Travis Hamonic said. “We’re just trying to keep pace with everybody. At this time of year it seems like everybody’s winning, so you have to win as well to keep pace.”
Things looked hairy for the Islanders early, as the Penguins opened the scoring with a pair of power-play goals 90 seconds apart. Chris Kunitz’s rebound deflected off Jaroslav Halak, then off Sidney Crosby for the game’s first goal at 10:52. One minute later, Cal Clutterbuck was whistled for high-sticking, sending the Penguins back to the power play. On the ensuing man advantage David Perron tipped a Kris Letang point shot past Halak, giving the Penguins a 2-0 lead at 12:22.
The Islanders got one back before the end of the first period, as John Tavares – who had three assists Friday – stickhandled through Simon Despres and sent a cross-crease pass off Okposo’s skate and past Marc-Andre Fleury.
Strome tied the score 12:31 into the second period. Strome’s first shot was stuffed at the hashmarks, but the Islanders forward stuck with it, held off Steve Downie and slid his second attempt past Fleury. The Islanders appeared destined to make it to the intermission with a 2-2 tie, but Crosby netted his second of the game, giving the Penguins a 3-2 advantage.
Okposo’s second goal came 6:42 into the third period, as Fleury bobbled a Josh Bailey point shot, allowing Okposo to swoop in and bury the rebound upstairs.
“Coming out strong in the third [was the turning point],” Strome said. “Kyle scored a couple of big goals. I think his second one was the one that put us back 3-3 and we grabbed the momentum from there.”
The go-ahead goal came five minutes later off the rush, as Josh Bailey found a seam, fed a trailing Okposo in the slot, setting the stage for the hat-trick goal, a high-blocker snipe on Fleury. Okposo effectively iced the game, chipping in a power-play goal in tight with 2:31 to play and Michael Grabner potted an empty netter to put an exclamation point on the win.
“We were resilient tonight,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “But this team never quits.”
Halak made 21 saves in the win, while Fleury stopped 29-of-34 in the loss.
The Islanders don’t have much time to savor Friday’s win, as they fly out to Montreal for a date with the Canadiens Saturday night. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.