PITTSBURGH — The Islanders lost a chance at a point or two inside of three minutes remaining in the third period for the second time in 24 hours, but this one left a far more bitter taste.
Longtime nemesis Sidney Crosby scored the winner with 2:25 to play in the Islanders’ 4-2 loss to the Penguins on Thursday night. The Pittsburgh captain got room to beat Jaroslav Halak from in close by standing up Johnny Boychuk behind the net with what the entire Islanders room felt was an elbow to Boychuk’s head. Boychuk was stunned, lost his stick and went to retrieve it while Crosby nestled in the slot.
“It’s frustrating when you get elbowed in the head and that guy scores the goal,” a heated Boychuk said after the Islanders fell to 3-5-0. “I’m sure if it was reversed, I’d be getting a phone call from the league and a suspension.”
The Penguins’ Phil Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.
Much like the final 10 minutes in Wednesday night’s 3-2 home loss to the Canadiens, the Islanders fell behind, tied it up late and lost it even later against the Penguins.
With the score tied at 1 after perhaps their best 40 minutes all season — the Islanders pumped 32 shots on Marc-Andre Fleury through two periods and got a goal from Travis Hamonic to offset Patric Hornqvist’s power-play goal 46 seconds into the game — the Isles weathered a third-period surge from the Penguins and kept it tied as the minutes dwindled down.
The Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin snuck a wrist shot through Halak’s pads with 7:12 left in the third, but the Islanders got a power play and a lucky bounce to tie the score with 4:22 to play. Brock Nelson’s hard dump-in caromed off the end glass and out to Shane Prince, who shot it into a fairly empty net with Fleury trying to hustle back into the crease. The Islanders seemed to have at least one hard-earned point in hand.
“I thought we played a great game on the road against a great team,” said Prince, who returned after missing the previous five games with a lower-body injury.
Prince set up Hamonic’s goal as well. “You have to take the positives and build on it,” he said.
That would have been easier with a win or at least a point, but for the third time in eight games, the Islanders gave up the winner inside of three minutes to play. Joe Pavelski did it for the Sharks on Oct. 18, Shea Weber bombed one in on Wednesday night and then Crosby, who scored his 30th career goal against the Islanders, did it in controversial fashion.
Crosby was in his second game back from a concussion, so his initiating the high contact on Boychuk certainly surprised the defenseman.
“It was a high hit, no question,” Jack Capuano said. “The disappointing thing is the official is right next to [Boychuk]. He didn’t even have the puck.”
Boychuk said the referee closest to him, Jean Hebert, asked him if he was OK. “And their players were asking me,” an incredulous Boychuk said. “I’m fine, so I guess that’s good. But if it was anyone else, they’d be getting a call from the league.”
Instead, the Islanders are back below .500 and smarting from losing points late again.