The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 3, 2013

Pens sink Islanders with clutch goals

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Sidney Crosby went through a cluster of New York Islanders like they weren’t even there.

With the puck on his stick in overtime, all he saw was the net. And then he hit it.

Crosby, who scored the tying goal in the third period, netted the winner with a brilliant individual effort 3:44 into overtime as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Tuesday night.

He stole the puck from Thomas Vanek just outside the New York blue line, streaked down the middle between two defenseman and jammed a backhander past Anders Nilsson for his 15th goal.

“The puck just came to me, and I found a way,” Crosby said. “I had some time to wind up and get some speed. It was a good situation.

“I didn’t notice how many guys were hanging on me. I just went for the net.”

Simple enough for Crosby, who had made it 2-all with 12:00 left in regulation by firing in a one-timer from the right circle off a pass from Evgeni Malkin.

Nilsson was the hard-luck loser in overtime for the second straight game. New York, which has dropped seven straight (0-5-2), gave up the lead late to Washington on Saturday and was beaten in overtime on a goal by Alex Ovechkin.

“Every goal you let in is frustrating,” said Nilsson, who made 31 saves in his seventh NHL game. “I thought I should have had the winner from Ovi and I should have the winner tonight.”

Malkin assisted on power-play goals by James Neal and Crosby to back Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 21 saves. His best stop came on Frans Nielsen’s penalty shot in the third when New York led 2-1.

If a standard penalty was called instead of a penalty shot, it would have wiped out the rest of the Penguins’ power play that produced the tying goal.

“That definitely might have changed things,” Crosby said.

Kyle Okposo scored twice in the first period for the Islanders, who are third from the bottom in the East.

Despite the gap in the standings, the Islanders play the Penguins much tighter on the ice. The teams have split two games in Pittsburgh this season, following the Penguins’ six-game, first-round playoff triumph over New York last spring.

“The rivalry is real,” Fleury said. “They play us close and really make us work. They are a good team against us just about every time we play them.”

The Penguins (19-9-1) moved one point ahead of idle Boston atop the Eastern Conference with their fourth straight win, and completed a 3-0 road trip.

Pittsburgh’s potent power play, ranked No. 1 in the NHL, got the Penguins back in the game. Neal connected in the final seconds of the second period, and Crosby tied it in the third.

Nilsson held off the Penguins long enough for New York to salvage a point in the standings. John Tavares assisted on both of Okposo’s goals.

“I thought we played very well,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We really needed that third one and didn’t get it. It’s very hard for us to win with two goals.

“It came down to special teams again. My frustration is the same as what the players are feeling because we’ve all been there.”

Okposo hadn’t scored in eight games but he broke out with two during a 4:35 span of the first and nearly netted a third before the intermission. He backhanded a shot from the bottom of the left circle into the crease. The puck and Tavares, along with Crosby and Kris Letang of the Penguins all arrived on Fleury’s doorstep at the same time. It found its way in off of Letang to make it 1-0 with 7:05 left.

Okposo got even more help on his second goal, which was his eighth of the season. He wound up from above the right circle and ripped a drive that struck Fleury and then squeezed under his left arm before trickling behind him with 2:30 to go.

Pittsburgh had a chance to cut into its deficit late in the frame when Vanek and Aaron Ness took penalties 1:17 apart, giving the Penguins a two-man advantage.

What Pittsburgh couldn’t do in the first, it did in the second when Neal notched a power-play goal with 15.6 seconds left off a feed in front from Malkin, who extended his point and assist streaks to nine games. He has 15 assists and 19 points during the run.

Neal scored his ninth goal of the season and seventh in six games to make it 2-1. He has 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists) in the last 13 games.

Notes: Malkin had league-best 25 points and 21 assists in November, the most assists in a month since Wayne Gretzky also had 21 in January 1996. ... The Islanders hadn’t scored first in seven games and hadn’t held a two-goal lead since a 3-2 loss to Los Angeles on Nov. 14.

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