Penguins blow 2-1 lead

Islanders 3 Penguins 2

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Scott Gordon had been a bit agitated Wednesday night.

And rightly so.

Gordon, the New York Islanders' coach, had just watched his team ring up one shot in the third period of what became a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia at Nassau Coliseum.

He did not kick over tables or launch into a rant that became an instant YouTube classic, but Gordon made it known that he was not happy, and that he expected more from his players.

And even though he spoke mostly through clenched teeth, Gordon's players obviously understood his message. Absorbed it. Did everything but tattoo it on their foreheads.

Scouting report
  • Game:: New York Rangers at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
  • TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
  • Penguins: Have won three in row on home ice. ... RW Bill Guerin has point in five of past seven games. ... Are outscoring opponents, 56-51, at even-strength.
  • Rangers: Were 6-5-1 on road before playing at Tampa Bay last night. ... RW Marian Gaborik took eight-game points streak into Lightning game. ... Are 1-3 against Atlantic Division, including 3-2 loss at Mellon Arena Oct. 2.
  • Hidden stat: Penguins defensemen have scored 16 goals, second most in NHL before games last night.

And they made a commitment to upgrade their third-period performance the next time out, which just happened to be against the Penguins yesterday.

And the Islanders did. Radically.

By 17 shots. By two goals. And by one victory.

John Tavares knocked in a rebound from the edge of the crease at 13:48 of the third period to break a 2-2 tie and account for the winner in the Islanders' 3-2 victory.

And while that goal, coupled with one by Sean Bergenheim 84 seconds into the third, gave New York the offense it needed to transform a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 triumph, the play of Penguins goalie Brent Johnson might have been the only reason the Islanders' margin of victory did not flirt with double figures.

They outshot the Penguins, 37-21, and devoted most of the final period to manufacturing one quality scoring opportunity after another.

"He made several really big saves in traffic when we needed a save, and gave us an opportunity to stay within one," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

After playing reasonably well for two periods, the Islanders came out for the third looking as if they had spent the entire intermission mainlining Red Bull. The Penguins, conversely, looked as if an overdose of tryptophan from the Thanksgiving meal they consumed a day earlier at teammate Bill Guerin's Long Island residence had just kicked in.

(OK, so the conventional wisdom about tryptophan causing drowsiness does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Neither does the conventional wisdom about the Penguins, who had been 11-1 when ahead at the second intermission, being pretty much invincible when leading after 40 minutes.)

"We pride ourselves on being a strong third-period team and raising our level when it's time," Sidney Crosby said.

"We didn't do a good job of that here."

But if the Islanders won this game in the third period, the Penguins might have lost it in the second.

They had a 2-1 lead when Islanders defenseman Jack Hillen was sent off for interfering with Crosby at 13:19 of the middle period.

Sixty-five seconds later, Andy Sutton of New York picked up a double-minor for high-sticking Evgeni Malkin.

That translated to 55 seconds with a two-man advantage, and three minutes and five seconds of a five-on-four, if needed.

Turns out the Penguins could have had an extra man -- or two or three or four -- for the better part of three weeks, and they likely would not have scored with a power play like the one they put forth.

Fact is, the best scoring chances during that span belonged to the Islanders, as Hillen had a breakaway after he left the penalty box and Richard Park had an open net after Johnson managed to poke the puck away from Hillen.

Had the Penguins, whose power play has betrayed them with disturbing regularity this season, scored while the Islanders were short-handed, New York might not have been able to rally. As it was, killing those penalties gave the Islanders a surge of momentum and adrenaline that carried them until the end of the game.

"That was a crucial moment," Penguins defenseman Martin Skoula said. "If you don't score on a five-on-three, there's a pretty good chance that it's going to bite you."

It did, by setting the stage for New York's dominating performance in the third period.

"They came out hard and set us back on our heels early," Johnson said. "I really wasn't expecting that, but give them credit. They worked really hard and got what they deserved."

So did their opponent.

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published November 28, 2009 5:00 AM


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