PITTSBURGH -- This town, and this team, have haunted the Islanders for a long time.
Tuesday night, the Islanders provided Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company some nightmares of their own. Evgeni Nabokov turned aside 37 shots and the Isles outworked and battled their way to a 4-1 win over the Penguins and their array of stars.
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"It does always seem to be something when we play them," said Michael Grabner, who had a breakaway goal in the second period as the Isles built a 4-0 lead after two. "We played smart defensively, we wanted to grind it out. I think we frustrated them a little bit."
It was more the no-names than the stars who forged the early success for the Islanders. Casey Cizikas pressured Paul Martin into a turnover and Cizikas' wrap-around sneaked by Marc-Andre Fleury at 16:01 of the first, Cizikas' first NHL goal and the first goal for the Isles' fourth line this season.
"It's been a little bit of a work in progress for us," said Marty Reasoner, who centers Cizikas and Matt Martin and had his best game in a year-plus as an Islander, going 9-6 in the faceoff circle and contributing to a terrific penalty kill. "Some nights you feel like you're doing it right and you've got nothing to show for it."
Reasoner dove to break up a good scoring chance for the Penguins in the second and started the play that Grabner finished at 6:46, with a wrist shot that went under Fleury's arm.
John Tavares' line had been struggling at five-on-five up to then, so the goals from the rest of the forwards were a big contribution. Tavares and his first-unit power-play mates made themselves known late in the second, though, with man-advantage goals 1:53 apart.
First was a Tavares crossbar-and-in wrister off a great touch pass from Matt Moulson at 15:22. Then Moulson swept in a feed from Brad Boyes at 17:15, drawing a chorus of boos from a record Consol Energy Center crowd that has grown accustomed to seeing the Isles as Penguin chow -- the Isles snapped a 13-game winless skid in Pittsburgh on March 27 last season, and now it's two in a row here.
There was still some danger, as Colin McDonald took a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding with 1:06 left in the second. But the Isles killed off the five minutes, allowing two shots on Nabokov, who is 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh.
"You can't give a team like that breathing room, because they keep coming," said Nabokov, whose bid for a shutout was spoiled by Pascal Dupuis with 1:09 to go. "We put it a hell of an effort."
It was noteworthy that the game was the Isles' lone national television appearance in this regular season. In November of 2011, when Crosby made his triumphant return from a concussion, the Penguins dominated the Isles, 5-0, making them more of a punchline than an opponent.
Things have changed.
"I'm sure coming in here no one gave us much of a chance against that team," coach Jack Capuano said. "Our guys are working hard. That's what the coaching staff wants to see."