James Neal celebrates a goal scored on the Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov in the third period at Consol Energy Center Thursday night. The Penguins won, 3-2, in a shootout.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins don't win many games anymore when they are losing after two periods.
Fact is, their 3-2 victory against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center Thursday night was the first time they have done it in more than a year.
The previous time was so long ago that the team they came back against, the Atlanta Thrashers, no longer exists.
But as novel as it has become for the Penguins to take two points when they trail at the second intermission, it is more unusual for them to win when they get into a shootout against a goalie who has spent the entire evening on the bench.
Mostly, because that situation almost never arises.
The Islanders did not have much choice. Coach Jack Capuano replaced Evgeni Nabokov, who had turned aside 30 of 32 shots during regulation and overtime, with Rick DiPietro before the shootout because Nabokov had suffered an undisclosed injury.
"It'd been bugging me, a lower-body injury, after the first period," Nabokov said. "It'd been getting a little bit fatigued, and Jack knew about it and pulled the trigger.
"Sometimes, you have to be smart and make those decisions because you're worried about the long run and not the short term. It's a long season, and I think that's the reason he made his decision."
Tossing a goalie into a game for a shootout, when the margin for error is nil, is tough enough. The challenge for DiPietro was even greater, however, because the shootout was not just his first action of the night, but also his first this season.
He had dressed for the first time in 2011-12 when he backed up Nabokov in the Penguins' 3-0 victory at Nassau Coliseum two nights earlier.
DiPietro acquitted himself pretty well, stopping Kris Letang and James Neal, but was not able to prevent Evgeni Malkin from scoring the only goal by either team.
Malkin, who managed to slide a puck under DiPietro's pads-- barely -- acknowledged that he was taken aback when the Islanders made the switch.
"It was a surprise for me," he said. "I think it was a surprise for the whole team."
Malkin's goal gave the Penguins the extra point because goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all three Islanders -- Frans Nielsen, P.A. Parenteau and John Tavares -- he faced during the shootout.
The victory was the Penguins' 12th in a row at home against the Islanders, their fifth in a row overall and raised their record to 8-2-2.
And, to the considerable surprise of most players, it was the first they have earned when trailing after 40 minutes since April 3, 2010.
"That's kind of surprising," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "With a veteran team, usually you can battle out a few games late."
Early on, it did not look like the Penguins would have to worry about rallying. They came close numerous times and had an apparent go-ahead goal by Jordan Staal disallowed at 7:38 of the opening period.
They were on a power play when Staal threw a shot past Nabokov from near the left dot, but the goal was waved off because Matt Cooke made contact with Nabokov's glove as Staal was about to shoot.
"I think it was a good call," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He bumped into Nabokov."
Neal nearly put the Penguins in front during a power play later in the period, but his shot from the left dot caromed off the crossbar.
New York ended up getting the only goal of the first when Nielsen flipped a rebound past Fleury from in front of the crease at 18:59, ending Fleury's shutout streak at 97 minutes, 12 seconds.
Nielsen's goal was the only one for either team until 45 seconds into the third, when Matt Martin of the Islanders punched a rebound between Fleury's legs to make it 2-0.
New York did not get to enjoy that lead for long, however, because Kunitz swatted a puck past Nabokov from the front lip of the crease at 1:29 for his third this season.
"We were fortunate enough to get a good bounce and put one in," Kunitz said. "Kind of get the momentum back in our favor, because it was slowly leaking away from us."
Kunitz slowed the leak, and Neal plugged it completely when he converted a Kunitz feed from the right side of the crease at 4:15.
"It was nice that the guys responded so quickly," Fleury said.
Yeah, an almost instant comeback. One that had been nearly 19 months in the making.