PITTSBURGH — The desperation has set in. It crept in a while ago, but as the Islanders extended their winless streak to six — this one in overtime — it became the loud voice in a very quiet dressing room.
There are 18 games left in this regular season, and time and opportunities are running out, even on days like Saturday when it seemed that so many things finally were going the Islanders’ way.
Sidney Crosby scored with 1:12 left in overtime as the Islanders squandered an otherwise brilliant performance by goalie Christopher Gibson en route to a 3-2 loss to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Gibson, in his fifth NHL start, made 47 saves — his most in the NHL. It’s his second most if you count his five seasons in the AHL.
In the battle for the final wild-card spot, the Islanders are three points behind the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, both of whom have a game in hand, and two points behind the Panthers, who have four games in hand. The Islanders still have games against Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary on their fairly brutal road trip out west.
“Yeah, [desperation has] been setting in for a little bit here, and unfortunately, it hasn’t turned into wins and we’ve got to find a way to figure that out and do it against Vancouver,” said Anders Lee, who briefly put the Isles up 2-1. “We knew what we needed to do. We had to come away with two points . . . It stings. It’s been a tough month and a half, a tough week and a half, and we’ve got to find a way to regroup.”
What’s more, they missed pivotal chances, including a four-on-three advantage for two minutes of overtime. About 30 seconds after that expired, Crosby beat Adam Pelech on the Penguins’ two-on-one and then delivered a top-shelfer to Gibson’s glove side for the win.
“You had Sidney Crosby coming down on the two-on-one and I’ve never seen that before, so it was exciting,” Gibson said. “You want to get that goal back for sure, even if it’s Crosby.”
As has so often been the case in this last month, the Penguins outshot the Islanders 19-8 in the first period and 50-27 for the game. Gibson appeared equal to the task and proved himself early and often.
The Islanders capitalized . . . almost without trying to. A little more than a minute into the game, a double-teamed Brandon Davidson rattled off a last-ditch attempt from near the right circle, but Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry fell as it slid ever-so-gently toward the net, putting the Islanders up 1-0.
After 36 futile shots, the Penguins finally snuck one through — a power-play goal by Patric Hornqvist, who poked the puck through the crease on a feed from Phil Kessel to tie the score at 1 with 1:56 left in the second period.
The Islanders managed to get a few very favorable bounces in the third. About five minutes into the period, John Tavares broke toward the net, fell as he tried to push the puck by two defenders and swept it with his arm toward Lee. Lee’s shot attempt rattled around the crease before sliding past the goal line.
Derick Brassard wrapped his stick around Gibson’s glove side to poke in a feed from Kessel to tie the score at 2 at 8:31 of the third.
After posting back-to-back shutouts on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 — their first two of the season — the Islanders have followed that up with six straight losses in which they’ve allowed 23 goals.
Feb. 19: 5-3 loss vs. Minnesota
Feb. 22: 4-3 shootout loss at Toronto
Feb. 24: 2-1 loss at New Jersey
Feb. 28: 3-1 loss at Montreal
Mar. 2: 6-3 loss vs. Montreal
Mar. 3: 3-2 OT loss at Pittsburgh