UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby made the Nassau Coliseum their personal playground in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rousing third-period rally.
For the second time in less than three weeks on Long Island, the Penguins wiped out a two-goal lead in the third period and throttled the Islanders. The latest jolt from the defending Eastern Conference champions came Wednesday night in a 5-3 victory.
Crosby scored a goal and set up two by Malkin in a 5:35 span of the third, and Malkin finished his natural hat trick with an empty-netter with 17.5 seconds left.
“It was crazy, but it was a fun game,” Crosby said. “We seemed to capitalize on every chance in that period. We don’t look to quit. A lot of leads are tough to hold. It’s happened to us a few times.”
The Islanders have been victimized more than their share, too. They are recently coming off a stretch where they blew third-period leads in four of five games, including a 4-3 shootout loss on Nov. 8, marked. All but one of those were two-goal leads.
They managed to get three points in those games.
“We’ve definitely learned our lesson this year,” defenceman Andy Sutton said. “There is a lot of talent in this league, and if you sit back just the littlest bit – it might not even be noticeable to the eye – teams are going to take advantage of it.”
Sutton made the biggest gaffe of all, and Crosby and Malkin turned it into the winning goal with 8:07 left.
Sutton brought the puck out from behind his net, but lost it right to Crosby. From his knees, Crosby sent a pass to Malkin, who scored while falling.
“I think it hit some snow and I kind of just overskated it,” Sutton said. “You can’t do that when the best player in the world is three feet behind you. I am a veteran guy on this team and I have to make the right play at the right time. That was the worst conceivable play.”
It was cruel symmetry for New York, which pulled out an improbable shootout victory at Montreal on Monday night when Canadiens defenceman Ryan O’Byrne scored into his empty net during a delayed Islanders penalty.
“I definitely didn’t laugh at that poor kid,” Sutton said. “It can happen to anybody at any time. I feel bad for the mistake but we’ll rebound.”
The comeback made a winner of third-stringer John Curry, who made his NHL debut in relief 9:27 into the second period after Dany Sabourin was chased. Curry stopped all 11 shots after Sabourin allowed three goals on 14.
“I didn’t have time to think. All I could do was just go in and play,” said Curry, a 24-year-old Minnesota native. “Believe me, it was very nerve-racking.”
New York seemed poised to win for the sixth time in seven games, but couldn’t make the most of prized rookie Josh Bailey’s first multipoint game.
Bailey helped set up goals by Trent Hunter and Bill Guerin, and originally was credited with another assist on Doug Weight’s first-period goal that gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
After defenceman Brooks Orpik cut Pittsburgh’s deficit to two in the final seconds of the middle period, the high-flying tandem of Crosby and Malkin took over.
Malkin found Crosby with a pass to the left of goalie Joey MacDonald, as the Penguins captain straddled the goal line, and Crosby slammed in his eighth goal at 6:18.
Crosby then was at his playmaking best. He zipped a pass from the left-wing side to Malkin, who took the pass as he streaked down the middle and snapped in a shot with 8:57 left.
The duo needed 50 more seconds to put Pittsburgh in front.
“We shot every shot we could. That’s the way we try to play,” said Malkin, who has 10 goals. “It feels good to get all those goals, but it feels more good to win.”
Until then, Bailey was in line to be the star.
The 19-year-old forward, who has yet to score in eight NHL games, has assists in three straight contests and five overall. The Islanders will have to make a decision after Friday’s game at Boston whether to keep this year’s No. 1 draft pick all season or return him to his junior team.
Bailey was given the second assist on Hunter’s ninth goal that made it 2-0 at 8:55 of the first period and posted the primary helper on Guerin’s ninth that pushed New York’s lead to three – a power-play goal 9:26 into the second.
MacDonald had been sharp with an NHL-best seven wins in November, and finished with 25 saves.
The Penguins, 8-1-1 in their last 10, showed life after Sabourin was pulled. With usual starter Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined for a fourth straight game, Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien turned to Curry.
Notes: The Islanders got D Freddy Meyer back in the lineup after he missed 14 games due to a sports hernia, but he replaced D Bruno Gervais, who is day to day with a leg injury. … Sabourin allowed five goals in going 1-1-1 during the first three games of Fleury’s absence.