UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Pittsburgh Penguins are rolling so well without Evgeni Malkin, the star centre might have trouble cracking the lineup once he is healthy enough to play.
“I think he should be all right,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said Friday night after Pittsburgh beat the New York Islanders 4-2 to extend their winning streak to 11 games.
Malkin has missed seven of those victories because of an undisclosed injury, but the Penguins haven’t missed a beat.
Tomas Vokoun was sharp in making 33 saves, and Brandon Sutter snapped a tie early in the third period for the Penguins, who overcame a pair of one-goal deficits and a poor first period to win again.
Vokoun was the difference-maker early as he allowed only one goal in the first when the Penguins were outshot 14-3 and spent most of the frame in their end.
Despite being down 1-0, the Penguins knew they were fortunate to be that close.
“It could’ve been three, four,” said Crosby, who had two assists. “Vokie kind of weathered that storm, and we were able to get back into it.
“That’s what allowed us to come in here and regroup, knowing that it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Brandon Sutter netted the winning goal when took a pass from Matt Cooke in front off a 2-on-1 rush and scored past goalie Evgeni Nabokov 1:46 into the third period. Joe Vitale and Chris Kunitz had second-period goals for Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh, which hasn’t lost since Feb. 28 at Carolina.
Pascal Dupuis added an empty-net goal with less than a second remaining, with an assist from Vokoun, to make it 4-2.
“They are a desperate team. They came out hard at us. We kind of bent but didn’t break,” Vokoun said of the Islanders. “We talked after the first period that we’ve got to match their energy and their effort—and we did.”
Mark Streit put the Islanders ahead in the first, and Josh Bailey answered Vitale’s goal to make it 2-1 in the second, but New York lost its third straight in a four-game homestand.
The Islanders have led or been tied in the third period of 25 of their 31 games, but have won only 13 (13-9-3).
“The third period has been our Achilles’ heel,” forward John Tavares said. “We can’t seem to hold onto a lead or break through in the third.
“We can’t afford not getting points. We have to push ourselves better. Our confidence isn’t bad, but we are making mistakes at the wrong times.”
The Islanders, who fell to an NHL-worst 5-11-2 at home, are 11th in the Eastern Conference—three points and three places behind the post-season cutoff.
“It’s crunch time every game,” save Nabokov, who made 21 saves. “We’re still not far from the pack.”
New York has been outscored 9-0 in the third period during this homestand, including allowing three final-period goals in a 5-2 loss to Montreal on Thursday.
“I knew we had to make a big push at the start of the third period,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “I certainly was aware of their third-period situation.
“I don’t know if they were ready for us or they were desperate because of their situation, but they played really well and really hard and took it to us. I am really proud of the way we battled and won this game.”
New York had its first of two late power plays when Pascal Dupuis went off for slashing with under 8 minutes left, but failed to capitalize.
The Islanders nearly tied it less than a minute after falling behind, but defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky’s long drive caromed off Vokoun’s glove and then struck the crossbar.
Vokoun has earned five wins in the streak while splitting time in goal with Marc-Andre Fleury.
New York dominated the first period, holding the high-flying Penguins without a shot until nearly 13 minutes had elapsed, but it only had a 1-0 lead to show for it.
Vokoun was challenged early and often. He stopped a shot by Michael Grabner in front less than 2 minutes in, and was tested a few minutes later by defenceman Andrew MacDonald.
The rebound was shoved behind Vokoun, but it slid through the crease.
New York finally got a puck past Vokoun at 7:46 of the first after Frans Nielsen had a clean faceoff win in the left circle. Nielsen pushed the puck back to Matt Carkner at the left point, and Carkner moved it quickly to Streit, who ripped a one-timer from the middle of the blue line.
Streit celebrated his fifth goal with an understated fist pump as the Islanders had a 10-0 lead in shots.
The margin was 12-0 when Tavares was stopped by Vokoun on a wraparound try, before the Penguins got their first shot of the game with 7:08 remaining by James Neal.
Pittsburgh came out quickly to start the second and put more pressure on Nabokov. They didn’t cash in on a power play that carried over from the first period, but tied the game 1-1 when Vitale took a pass from Craig Adams, skated to the centre of the left circle and snapped a shot into the upper right corner at 8:11.
Another Islanders flurry led to Bailey’s fourth of the season, scored with 2:42 left in the period. But New York couldn’t carry the lead into the third because Kunitz scored his 19th goal to tie it with 13.8 seconds left.
NOTES: Penguins C Tyler Kennedy missed the game because of an illness and was replaced in the lineup by forward Trevor Smith, who was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. Pittsburgh was also missing D Kris Letang, who sat out his second straight game. … Carkner’s assist was his first point in 11 games this season.