PITTSBURGH - It was another crazy night in this city for the Islanders, a reminder of a few games last May when the excitement level and intensity were up.
So were the mistakes, and when the Islanders lost that playoff series to the Penguins, the last mistake was the most costly. That was true again Friday night when John Tavares and Thomas Hickey both lunged at a puck behind the Isles' net, leaving Sidney Crosby alone in front.
Latest Islanders stories
Crosby buried a pass from Pascal Dupuis with 1:16 to go, giving the Penguins a 4-3 win in a game the Islanders managed to claw back into after an ugly first period.
"They bring out the best in us," Casey Cizikas said. "We know what we have to do against them."
It wasn't enough in a wide-open game of trading chances. Kevin Poulin made 30 saves, including a breakaway stop on Evgeni Malkin with five minutes left and the score tied 3-3. He also made several beauties in the second period, when the Isles rallied from two goals down.
"We kept working," Poulin said. "Are we happy? No. You can't be when you lose."
The Islanders have lost six straight on the road and seven of the past nine games, remaining last in the Metropolitan Division for another night. They will face the Flyers in Philadelphia Saturday night.
There were other self-inflicted wounds aside from the missed assignment on the game-winner. The Islanders entered the game with the league's worst penalty-killing unit and the Penguins have Crosby, Malkin and a few others on their power play -- so naturally, the Isles took three penalties in the first 7:42 of the game.
Chris Kunitz scored on two of them. The first, at 4:04, came off two perfect "Z" passes through the penalty-killing box, from Malkin to Crosby to Kunitz alone in front. The second was off the rush at 7:55.
In between, the Isles lost Andrew MacDonald for nearly the entire first two periods when he took a shot off his right hand. He broke his left hand in last spring's playoffs.
With MacDonald out, the Isles juggled five defensemen. In the second, they took advantage of the Penguins' breakdowns. Thomas Vanek scored twice, sandwiched around a Malkin goal and a Colin McDonald goal.
Vanek's second goal, off a goalmouth scramble at 12:54 of the second, prompted Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to call timeout and settle his troops.
"It's the way we know we have to play," said MacDonald, who was in the dressing room until the start of the third, icing his hand. "This team's not going to quit. We showed that tonight."
But after a more settled third period and the Isles trying to escape with a point or even two, they broke down -- and it cost them.
"We outshot them, outhit them, we blocked shots, Pouls played well enough to win and we make a mental mistake to lose it," Jack Capuano said. "We had the effort. It's frustrating to battle that hard and come away with nothing."
Notes & quotes: Frans Nielsen left the ice in pain after a crosscheck to the back from Craig Adams in the final minute. There was no word on his status.