For sixty minutes the Islanders did something no other team had done in the previous 25 games. They held Penguins captain and offensive force Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet, a feat that had not been accomplished since November 3. They did it again for the entirety of the five-minute overtime period. And for a third time, he was stopped, this time in the shootout.
That was when goaltender Rick DiPietro single-handedly wrested the spotlight from Sid the Kid and stole the show.
With a 3-2 shootout edge, DiPietro delivered a huge stop with his left pad on Mark Letestu for a thrilling 2-1 shootout win over the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum in front of a season’s-best crowd of 14,345. Rob Schremp, Frans Nielsen and P.A. Parenteau all scored in the shootout for the Islanders.
"Rick was awesome tonight. That's pretty much self explanatory," said rookie defenseman Travis Hamonic. "Rick makes it easy, as does Roli. We know our goaltenders always have our backs."
In his first start since a brief stint on the injured reserve last week for swelling in his surgically-repaired left knee, Rick DiPietro made 37 saves and took home first-star honors to lead the Islanders to their fourth win in five games. The Islanders also shut down Crosby just one day following the trade of one of their best defenseman, James Wisniewski.
Josh Bailey snapped a scoreless tie 24 seconds into the second period, putting back Hamonic’s rebound for a 1-0 lead and winger Chris Conner tied the game late in the period to capitalize on John Tavares’ turnover in the neutral zone at 16:33.
With the game tied at 1 in the third, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was awarded a penalty shot after Bruno Gervais appeared to close his hand on the puck in the crease, but his backhander went high to preserve the tie. That served as a harbinger of things to come when DiPietro prevailed in a white-knuckled four-round shootout.
"I don't ever like the opportunity to end the shootout with shutting the door," DiPietro said. "Malkin made a nice move and made me look a little foolish, but i got the last one."
The Islanders defense faced Crosby and the Penguins high-octane offense without Wisniewski, who was traded to Montreal Tuesday for a compensatory 2nd round pick and a 5th round pick.
"Obviously he was a big veteran presence back there. He brought leadership and a sense of calmness on the ice," said Hamonic, who played top-pair minutes last night. "Whenever you're missing a player like that in your lineup it's a big void to fill. As a whole unit we can all step up and play better."
In addition to the loss of Wisniewski, the Islanders are currently without injured veterans Mark Streit, Mike Mottau and Radek Martinek. Throughout the course of the season, Jack Hillen, Milan Jurcina, Bruno Gervais, Andrew MacDonald and Eaton have all spent time sidelined with various ailments as well.
In the constant carousel that is the Islanders’ back end, Hamonic holds the longest streak of consecutive games among the team’s current crop of defenseman. He played his 15th straight NHL game last night.
It was Hamonic and defensive partner Andrew MacDonald that head coach Jack Capuano elected to use against Pittsburgh’s top line the most, and it was those two that handled the bulk of the challenge that was ending Crosby's illustrious streak.
"It was just an awareness. When he's out there you just have to be that more aware," MacDonald said. "It was 25 games for him, it had to end some time, but I thought we did a good job of containing him. It's quite an accomplishment for him, but it's a big one for us to be able to stop him," MacDonald said.