PITTSBURGH - Even though the Islanders were down two goals before the game was even four minutes old, even though Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' two biggest stars, had scored early, the Islanders felt confident.
They've never been here before -- this being the first playoff appearance for most of the fresh-faced Isles -- but they've been here before. The Isles had rallied from two-goal deficits in hostile environments five times to win in their 24 regular-season road games.
"We knew we'd been in situations like this before," Andrew MacDonald said. "That's what we had to rely on. Guys did a great job keeping their composure."
And so, even after another Crosby goal to restore Pittsburgh's two-goal lead, the Isles tightened up and chipped away. Kyle Okposo's lucky-bounce goal with 7:37 to go in the third got the Isles all the way back to a 4-3 win Friday night in Game 2 and a 1-1 Eastern Conference quarterfinal tie with the Penguins.
First it was Malkin outbattling three Islanders for a rebound to sweep past Evgeni Nabokov just 43 seconds in. Then it was Crosby, back for his first game in five weeks after a broken jaw, tapping Jarome Iginla's feed into a yawning net on the power play at 3:19.
The Isles could have sunk even lower than they did in Game 1's 5-0 shelling. But there was a difference: The Game 2 Islanders were getting chances and getting to pucks quicker in the offensive zone.
"I think that was a different team than you saw in Game 1," coach Jack Capuano said.
Crosby answered right back 18 seconds later. And though the first period ended with the Isles trailing 3-1, there was no panic in the dressing room. The Isles held a 20-12 shot advantage and felt they needed only some better defensive-zone play.
"We didn't let doubt creep in, and that's what we've been doing all year," Okposo said.
He got things going with a surprising fight at 4:58 of the second, challenging Matt Niskanen after he leveled Moulson with a clean open-ice hit. Just 14 seconds later, Colin McDonald picked Paul Martin's clearing attempt out of the air, dropped it on his stick and jammed a backhand off Marc-Andre Fleury to cut the deficit to 3-2.
At 10:37, Matt Martin tied it on another fortuitous bounce, this one off the end boards after Josh Bailey's shot went right to Martin, who beat Kris Letang to the corner of the net and jammed it home.
Nabokov, who made 30 saves, came up big in the closing minutes of the second and early in the third, when the Islanders killed a four-minute power play after John Tavares' high stick on Brenden Morrow.
Tavares, who had an assist and six shots on net in Game 2 after a goose egg in Game 1, said: "We left Sidney and Malkin. We've got to be harder on those guys in front of our own net. We did that much better, and when they had puck possession in the third period, we did a good job keeping them to the outside."
And the Isles' speed game in transition got them the winner. Mark Streit fed Okposo, who whipped a bouncing puck just wide. It kicked off the end glass, landed in the crease, caromed off Fleury's pad and squirted over the goal line.
"We got some bounces, and they got some, too," MacDonald said. "It was about maintaining the right mind-set to play through anything."