Islanders get a win in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH -- The Islanders' most recent visit here, back on Nov. 21, was memorable for just about everyone in the hockey world: Sidney Crosby made his first return from a head injury that night, and his four-point game was what all would recall in a 5-0 Penguins rout.
Tuesday night, the Islanders made themselves a small keepsake of a game, even though it was too late to mean much to their lost season.
The Isles took advantage of some sloppy play by their hosts and got out of town with a 5-3 win, their first victory in this city since Dec. 21, 2007, a span of 13 games (0-11-2).
"It's good to know we can win in this building," said Frans Nielsen, who opened the scoring at 3:12 of the first and added the Isles' final goal, a breakaway score at 18:08 of the second that made it 5-2. "We've been playing good lately here, and we knew tonight and [Thursday] at home against these guys would be real tests of how good we really are."
Unfortunately, the Isles didn't pass that test this season. The win Tuesday night, their fourth on a five-game road trip that wrapped here, only kept them 11 points out of eighth and mathematically alive by the slimmest of margins. The Penguins fell to three points behind the Rangers.
Mostly what it did was curtail the Penguins' amazing run, both this season against the entire league (they had won 10 straight at home and 26 of their last 33) and in the old Igloo and the new Consol Center against the Isles.
Coupled with two wins in Philadelphia to end a four-year drought there, this season's Isles have fought hard against their Atlantic Division opponents. Not enough to make a whole season mind you, but something.
"They're steppingstones, I think," said Josh Bailey, who had the first three-assist game of his career. "You sometimes just need to crack that goose egg; we did it twice in Philly and now we've done it here. Hopefully, we've cracked it and we can take that into next season."
They can also take a night with five goals and none of them from John Tavares' line. Michael Grabner scored with five seconds left in the first to make it 2-0 and Kyle Okposo stemmed the Penguins' onslaught with a breakaway wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury at 12:48 of the second.
David Ullstrom, who left the game after two periods with an upper-body injury, jammed in a feed from Bailey on the power play at 15:20 and Nielsen, who also had an assist, finished off Fleury with the late score.
Evgeni Nabokov was superb, stopping 30 of 32 shots over the first 40 minutes, but he left with a lower-body injury, possibly the groin problem he had earlier this season. Al Montoya came on and dazzled with 21 third-period saves as the high-powered Pens threw everything they had, finishing with 54 shots.
"We've been good the last little while here," Jack Capuano said. "Our guys are still young for the most part, they're still finding their way. These are strides, for sure. Wins like these are something the guys should be proud of."