The Islanders always expected their six games against the Penguins this month to feel like a playoff series. Other than the shootout ending — specific to the regular season — that was the case on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
"It was chippy out there," center Casey Cizikas said. "It was physical. It was a hard-fought game. This is what we want. These are the kind of games we love. And we play these guys four more times this month. It’s going to be a battle. I’m looking forward to it."
But the Islanders’ 4-3 shootout loss was a missed opportunity. Evgeni Malkin’s goal with 18.0 seconds left in regulation and the Penguins skating six-on-five allowed Pittsburgh to tie the score for the third time and push the game to overtime.
"It was a playoff-style game," coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought they played really well. I thought we played really well, so I didn’t expect anything different than a really close game. On six-on-five, it goes post and in. That’s a little bit of hockey sometimes."
The Islanders (5-4-3), who got highlight-reel goals by Cizikas and Mathew Barzal, did extend their point streak to five games (2-0-3). They are tied with the Penguins (6-5-1) for fourth place in the tight East Division standings with 13 points. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs.
"I think it was a pretty good game," Anders Lee said. "There’s a lot of things to take from this game to build off of. We’ve gotten points in a few in a row. It’s tough to give one up, but bad breaks are going to happen."
Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal in the shootout, patiently holding the puck on his stick and connecting with a backhander against Semyon Varlamov (32 saves).
Casey DeSmith (26 saves) stopped Jordan Eberle, Barzal and finally Josh Bailey in the shootout.
The Islanders had beaten the Penguins, 4-3, on Saturday night at the Coliseum on Lee’s late power-play goal. They also will play back-to-back games in Pittsburgh next Thursday and Saturday and then host back-to-back games against the Penguins on Feb. 27-28.
Barzal gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead off a spectacular individual effort at 13:35 of the third period, using his speed to get past rookie defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph to the crease and lift a shot over DeSmith.
"I just had a full head of steam," said Barzal, who extended his point streak to seven games and has three goals and six assists in that span. "It was one-on-one and I was trying to make a move on him. I also had one [earlier in the game] that I didn’t score on. I was fortunate enough to get it in."
Cizikas made it 1-0 at 5:39 of the first period, also on a great individual effort. He won a puck battle with Penguins defenseman John Marino in the slot and was able to get the puck past DeSmith while falling.
"I can’t really tell you what was going through my head," Cizikas said. "I might have blacked out there for a second."
His line with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck also had its third straight identity-setting game.
Cizikas and Martin had the third-period goals in Monday’s 2-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and Clutterbuck scored the third-period equalizer against the Penguins on Saturday.
Bryan Rust tied the score at 1 at 11:47 of the first period on a redirection before the Islanders’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau tipped in defenseman Nick Leddy’s blue-line shot on the power play for a 2-1 lead at 18:40 of the first period.
Staten Island’s Zach Aston-Reese, activated off long-term injured reserve earlier in the day, knocked in his own rebound at the crease at 7:02 of the second period to tie it at 2.
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