The first playoff game at Nassau Coliseum in six years felt like a best-of-seven series rolled into one day.
Chris Kunitz's power-play goal 8:44 into overtime Sunday gave the Penguins a 5-4 overtime win over the Islanders and a 2-1 lead in this wild Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
But the Islanders, who coughed up a two-goal lead early and rallied to erase a two-goal deficit late, did not sound deflated. In this already topsy-turvy series, the Game 3 losers put on a confident face and sounded just about as positive as the winners.
"We can't be down. We played a great game," Travis Hamonic said. "We battled back against one of the tougher teams in the league. It's a loss, so it stinks, we're mad, but you can't dwell on it. We'll be ready for Game 4."
The emotional roller coaster reached its height in the third when John Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury with 9:12 left in regulation to pull the Isles even. Tavares' first career playoff goal came at just the right moment, after Kyle Okposo's superb individual effort for a shorthanded goal 5:31 into the third brought the sold-out Coliseum back to life.
"We didn't really have much the first five minutes of the third, so we needed something to go right," said Okposo, who danced a tightrope to corral Frans Nielsen's pass, stay onside, get control and beat Fleury with a well-placed shot. "It's encouraging we came back. It doesn't mean a whole lot since we're down 2-1, but we're right in it."
Were it not for the Penguins' lethal power play, which produced two goals in a 19-second span of the first period to erase the Isles' quick 2-0 edge, this series could be standing in a very different spot heading into Tuesday night's Game 4.
"We think we can play better," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That goes with the lead or without the lead. They make long, quick plays and they're very dangerous when they do it. We haven't played our best."
Sidney Crosby had three assists, including the short pass to set up Kunitz's one-timer from the slot that beat Evgeni Nabokov for the winner. But perhaps No. 87's best play was his good body position and drive to the net in OT that forced Brian Strait to haul him down, giving the Penguins their fifth power play of the game.
"I don't know which one is too good and which one is too bad," Nabokov said of the Penguins' power play and the Isles' penalty kill, which has surrendered six goals on 13 chances this series. "We have to find a way to stay out of the box as much as possible."
At even strength, however, the Islanders have had the edge for two games now. Lubomir Visnovsky's strong drive into the Pittsburgh zone set up two close-in whacks by Okposo and a third by Matt Moulson that crawled behind Fleury just 1:43 into the game, making a very loud Coliseum deafening.
Michael Grabner's steal and feed for Casey Cizikas produced a 2-0 lead at 5:41, with Cizikas' one-timer caroming off Matt Niskanen and in. But Mark Streit took a hooking penalty and Hamonic stuck his leg out to take down Jarome Iginla, giving the Pens a two-man advantage. They struck on both ends, first with Iginla's tip at 13:18, then Kunitz on a breakaway at 13:37.
"We took some wrong routes on the PK," coach Jack Capuano said. "Their zone entries were way too easy. But five-on-five, I thought we dictated play."
With the must-win Game 4 coming up, the Islanders will have to put their corrections into practice quickly. But they've already shown enough fortitude and skill to prevent this series from becoming a foregone conclusion, even with the Penguins halfway to the next round.
"I wish I could say it wouldn't have been different if we'd lost [in regulation]," Hamonic said. "It's basically flip a coin there, right? We have the attitude to go right at them."