The Islanders accomplished so much of what they wanted to do, getting waves of bodies to the Penguins’ crease in a very physical effort.
They outshot the Penguins 35-18. They outchanced them 61-41. They outhit them 53-30, a season high for credited hits.
They still lost, 3-2, on Saturday night, unable to protect a one-goal lead in the third period, and were swept in Pittsburgh to end a four-game road trip.
"Well, you know what? Life’s not fair sometimes," coach Barry Trotz said. "You just stick to the process, you’ll get those results. I think the guys know in the room that we probably deserved a point tonight, at least. And maybe two. If we continue to play that way, we’ll have success."
Defenseman Kris Letang scored twice, including the winner over goalie Semyon Varlamov’s blocker at 13:34 of the third period, and Sidney Crosby, continuing his career-long assault on the Islanders, had two assists in his 1,000th game.
"I thought we stayed on top of them. We limited their space and obviously their chances," said Jordan Eberle, who tied it at 1 with a backhander at the crease against Tristan Jarry off Anthony Beauvillier’s feed at 15:28 of the second period. "Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. So that’s a tough one to swallow."
"It hurts," added Brock Nelson, who gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead with a screened shot from the blue line 53 seconds into the third period for his first even-strength goal of the season. "Regulation losses sting a little bit more this year. We did some good things. We had a lead in the third. You want to try and find a way to close it out."
Crosby has 118 career points (37 goals, 81 assists) in 71 career games against the Islanders, the most for an active player against an opponent.
He was honored in a lengthy pregame ceremony. The Penguins’ players all wore No. 87 jerseys during warmups and copied their unaware captain’s ritual of dropping to a knee and tying his skates.
Trotz, trying to generate more offense after the Islanders did not create much traffic at the crease in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Penguins, reunited the top two lines he started the season with for the first time since Beauvillier suffered a lower-body injury in a 2-0 loss to the Devils on Jan. 24.
Eberle was put back on Mathew Barzal’s right wing along with Anders Lee. Beauvillier, in his third game since being activated off injured reserve, was back on Nelson’s left wing along with Josh Bailey after playing the last two games mainly on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s third line.
"I felt Beau was ready to take on more minutes, that’s probably where it started," Trotz said. "I think Beau’s the missing piece for that line, so we’ve been makeshifting it for a while. I thought Beau had pretty good jump and was effective and I thought Nellie had a real strong game. He was firm. He made plays. He was skating."
Defenseman Mike Matheson, who angered the Islanders with his boarding penalty on Barzal late in Thursday’s game, tied the score at 2 at 7:35 with his first goal of the season off Teddy Blueger’s feed to the low slot.
Letang’s power-play one-timer from the top of the left circle had given the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 12:35 of the second period, with Crosby getting the secondary assist.
The Islanders showed a concerted effort to get more bodies and pucks to the Penguins’ net as they held a 16-4 shot advantage in a breakneck first period.