UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Pittsburgh Penguins got their revenge on the New York Islanders in a shootout instead of a knockout.
In the highly anticipated rematch of their brawl-filled previous meeting, the Penguins got the only goal in the tiebreaker from Chris Kunitz and held off the Islanders 4-3 on Friday night.
The Penguins seemed to have things well in hand until Travis Hamonic got the Islanders even at 3-3 with just 35 seconds left in regulation with a shot from the left point that got past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after New York pulled Al Montoya for an extra skater.
But Kunitz salvaged the win with his third-round goal to assure the Penguins of home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and move them into a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with one game left.
“I like home ice in the playoffs,” understated Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “There are things about the game I didn’t like, but our team found a way to win. It’s a big win.”
The Islanders had nearly tied it with 1:38 left, before Hamonic scored, but Matt Moulson’s goal was disallowed because John Tavares was in the crease.
Mark Letestu had snapped a 2-2 tie with 7:39 left, and Mike Rupp added a goal and assist for the Penguins. Fleury turned aside all three Islanders shooters in the shootout.
Pittsburgh went 4-1-1 against the Islanders, who were long eliminated from the playoff race, but struggled to get those wins.
“They play us hard,” Bylsma said. “They’ve been able to do some things against us and we’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get every point we got from them.”
Letestu took a backhanded pass in front from Rupp and scored past Montoya a little over 4 minutes after Blake Comeau got the Islanders even at 2-2 with his second goal of the night.
The Penguins are in a good position heading into the playoffs despite being without star forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for large parts of the season. Pittsburgh also lost forward James Neal on Friday, and Bylsma called him day to day.
Zbynek Michalek also scored, and Fleury played well in the rematch of the Feb. 11 fireworks.
With NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell in attendance this time, the Penguins and Islanders squared off for their first fight of the night sooner than in the previous meeting. Pittsburgh’s Eric Godard—who received a 10-game ban for leaving the bench to fight the last time—dropped the gloves with Trevor Gillies on the faceoff following Rupp’s goal that made it 1-0 at 8:57.
Craig Adams and New York’s Micheal Haley were the first combatants in February, fighting at 10:22, when no one realized how wild the game would turn out to be.
The last game featured 65 penalties, 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts in the Islanders’ victory that was never competitive. Records were set for both teams for most combined penalty minutes, and there were few players around to finish the game.
Godard and Gillies, who was suspended for nine games after the previous meeting, were given misconducts in addition to the fighting penalties that extended into the second period.
“The refs were obviously setting a tone and made sure it wasn’t out of hand like last time,” Godard said. “I know what they were trying to do. They were just letting the guys know that they have the game under control.”
Arron Asham of the Penguins and Islanders counterpart Zenon Konopka dropped the gloves in front of the penalty box at 11:57, with Konopka picking up an extra two minutes and a misconduct for instigating the fight. Asham only served five minutes in penalties.
Much of the pre-game talk seemed to downplay the likelihood of another fightfest Friday, and outside of the two early bouts, the game was played rather cleanly and fairly.
The teams combined for 21 penalties—11 for the Penguins—for 78 minutes.
“Sometimes the buildup and the anticipation is far greater than what really happens on the ice,” Bylsma said. “The refs did a pretty good job of letting everyone know how the game was going to be called right off the hop. It was pretty much just a hard-fought hockey game.”
Comeau had an easy time in tying the game after speedy Michael Grabner raced with puck behind the net and found Comeau alone in front, for a patient shot into an empty net at 8:14 of the third. The power-play goal was the second allowed by the Penguins in 26 short-handed opportunities over eight games.
Comeau had cut New York’s deficit to 2-1 with 4:42 left in the second when he put in a rebound of Moulson’s shot.
“Moulson was where he had to be, in front,” Comeau said. “He got the rebound and tried to put it in. I got the rebound and put it in.
“The second goal was great speed by Grabner. I tried to find the open hole in the slot and he ended up finding me.”
Rupp put the Penguins in front with his eighth of the season. After Pittsburgh had a couple of whacks in front at a loose puck, it bounced outside the crease to Rupp, who scored with a backhander.
The Penguins carried that slim edge into the second period after outshooting New York 15-10 in the first.
Michalek made it 2-0 at 11:11 off a crisp feed from Kris Letang during a power play. Letang faked a shot from the centre of the blue line and slid a pass to his left to Michalek, who wound up and fired a one-time from the left point that beat Montoya. It was the defensman’s second goal and third point in three games.
NOTES: The Penguins are 19-5-2 against New York since the start of the 2007-08 season. … The Islanders will finish the regular season Saturday in Philadelphia. The Penguins will visit Atlanta on Sunday. … Letang has 100 NHL assists, including 42 this season. … Michalek has five goals and three assists in the past 15 games. … New York had its third straight home sellout, and fourth this season.