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Islanders lose a third straight time in third period

Mark Streit of the Islanders tries to skate

Mark Streit of the Islanders tries to skate between Paul Martin and Brandon Sutter of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum. (March 22, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

At 8:55 p.m. Friday, the Islanders entered that haunted house familiar to them as the third period.

They were tied, 2-2, the 25th time in 31 games they have begun the final 20 minutes either ahead or tied.

They were aware that, too often, those games did not turn out well, with 11 losses (eight of those in regulation).

The late horror-movie shocks have gotten worse lately and, this time, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins wielding the chain saw. Just 1:46 into the third, Brandon Sutter converted a door-step pass from Matt Cooke for a 3-2 lead, and Pascal Dupuis' empty-net goal in the final second left the Islanders chopped up again, 4-2.

"It hurts when we've played well," center John Tavares said. "But you can't let in an early goal [in the third] and you can't let in goals late in the [second] period."

Which they did.

It was Pittsburgh's 11th consecutive victory, equaling Chicago's league best. For the Islanders, dangling by their fingertips over the abyss of playoff elimination most of the year, it was a third consecutive loss, all after being tied or ahead after two periods.

It also dropped their record in games when they have scored two or fewer goals to a frightening 1-13-1, and their home record to a gloomy 5-11-2.

"Obviously, we would've liked a better third period," Islanders wing Josh Bailey said. "I don't think we think about it any differently. You not always going to play a perfect game, but we've got to find a way to get two points."

As if trying to steel themselves for what might come later, the Islanders (13-15-3) spent the first period turning expectations inside-out against the league's hottest team, besieging back-up Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun with 14 shots while Pittsburgh (24-8-0) managed only three.

In fact, by the time Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov handled his first shot, gloving a riser from left wing James Neal 12:53 into the game, the frisky, forechecking Islanders had peppered Vokoun with 12 shots and had a 1-0 lead off defenseman Mark Streit's laser from the blue line at 7:46.

In the usual counterintuitive way, the Islanders were making things look easy by working hard. The score might already have been 2-0 or 3-0 after one period.

But this wouldn't be 2013 if the Islanders didn't have their resolve severely tested. At 8:11 of the second, Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale tied it, 1-1.

After Vokoun, who finished with 33 saves, stopped Marty Reasoner's rebound while lying on his right side, Kyle Okposo worked mightily to keep the puck in the attacking zone, leading to Josh Bailey's sweeping rebound and a 2-1 Islanders lead at 17:18.

Alas, danger again lept from the shadows at the least likely time.

Only 13.8 second were left in the second when Sidney Crosby rampaged across the Islanders blue line to set up Chris Kunitz, who drilled the puck between Nabokov's knees and tied the score at 2-2.

And then came (play the scary music) the third period.

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