PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Brent Johnson figured a chance at a knockout was much rarer than a shot at a shutout.
So he took it.
The Penguins’ veteran backup stopped 20 shots and was 16.5 seconds away from his second shutout of the season when he was ejected after fighting with Islanders counterpart Rick DiPietro late in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 win over the New York on Wednesday night.
“The guys didn’t know I had that little mean streak in me,” said Johnson, who has 14 career shutouts, but had never fought in the NHL. “It was something I’ve kind of wanted to do for a while. Maybe it’s just a little bit of frustration about some things.”
Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz and Max Talbot scored for Pittsburgh, which has won four consecutive and seven of eight. The Penguins shut out the Islanders at home for the second time in nine days.
The blanking officially goes into the record books as a team shutout because No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played the final 16.5 seconds.
“Johnny was sick,” Fleury said. “He’s a righty, first of all, and he goes in as a lefty. That was awesome. He was so calm, so relaxed. It was just boom! His expression never changed. It was just boom, and that was it.”
Angered that DiPietro had swatted Penguins forward Matt Cooke with his blocker, Johnson skated all the way from his crease to the Islanders end of the ice. He dropped his gloves at the blue-line before engaging with DiPietro.
Johnson sent DiPietro to the ice with a clean left just above his right eye.
“I didn’t intend to hurt anyone or anything,” Johnson said. “It was just a lucky punch.”
DiPietro’s face was visibly swollen with a welt after the game.
“It’s a fight. Things happen,” DiPietro said. “He’s got long arms.”
The late-game fight overshadowed the fact that the Penguins improved to 4-1 without captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) and fellow all-star centre Evgeni Malkin (sinus infection).
Malkin has been practising recently and is expected to return soon. There is no timetable for Crosby to rejoin the lineup. The Penguins lost another centre, Mark Letestu, who injured a knee during Tuesday’s morning skate in New York.
Pittsburgh received some good news Wednesday when the NHL rescinded an automatic one-game suspension for centre Jordan Staal, who was ejected Tuesday night after he delivered a gloved punch to the head of Rangers forward Brandon Prust.
Pittsburgh is 7-3-1 without Crosby, who was leading the NHL in goals and points when he was injured.
Fleury stopped 29 Islanders shots in a 1-0 win on Jan. 25, and the Penguins have allowed only 12 goals in eight games.
Pittsburgh has 11 consecutive home victories against the Islanders, who were angry long before the Johnson-DiPietro fight. Winger Blake Comeau laid on the ice for a few minutes after Talbot delivered a blind shoulder-to-shoulder hit in the first period.
“Looking at it, it was a dangerous hit,” New York forward Zenon Konopka said. “We’re not happy, and we’re not happy with the outcome of the game. We have to remember this.”
The teams meet again on Feb. 11 on Long Island.
Kennedy scored his eighth goal 8:08 in, a bad-angle shot when the rebound of Paul Martin’s shot from the left point squirted to him on the right side.
The Islanders have allowed the first goal in 13 of 14 games and are 5-25-4 in games in which they trailed 1-0.
New York’s deficit doubled five minutes later when Kunitz scored for the fifth time in eight games, a backhander as he drove to the net down the right wing.
Talbot added an empty-net goal in the final minute for his 100th career NHL point.
Johnson, making his third start since Dec. 22, had one of his best saves midway through the third when he gloved a slapshot from the left point off the stick of Travis Hamonic. He also stopped Jack Hillen from in close in the final period.
Still, it was the goalie fight that drew most of the conversation after the game.
“I guess you don’tsee it that much in today’s NHL, but obviously back when assistant coaches and I played you saw it all the time,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “It was one of those things. There was some scuffling going on toward the end of the game in the corner and I guess (Johnson) thought he had to come down.”
Notes: The Islanders have lost six of eight and haven’t won in Pittsburgh since Dec. 21, 2007. … The Penguins are 17-2-2 against the Islanders at home in the past 21 meetings and 13-1-2 in the last 16 overall. … There have been 11 total goals in the four games between these teams this season.