Okposo's fight with Niskanen sets tone for Islanders comeback

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Early in the second period Friday night at Consol Energy Center, the New York Islanders started to establish their presence in a series that had swung completely in the Penguins' favor so far.

New York peppered Marc-Andre Fleury for 20 shots in the first period, but still trailed, 3-1.

They were looking for something, anything, to give them a spark and put them back into contention.

Kyle Okposo obliged.

After Penguins defender Matt Niskanen leveled Islanders left winger Matt Moulson with a hard check, Okposo stepped up to avenge his teammate in a fight that left Niskanen bloodied and the Islanders inspired.

"It was a big moment in the game," Islanders center John Tavares said. "Kyle, it's not his forte, but he's a big, strong guy, he's a heck of a leader in our locker room.

"Things were kind of going well for us, and we were generating, and Kyle just stepped up at a good time. As a teammate, any time you see someone sacrifice like that this time of the year, it goes a long way."

The barrage of shots continued, and at last pucks started finding their way into the net.

The Islanders scored twice in the second period to even the score, 3-3, and earned the winner in the final period. New York outshot the Penguins, 42-33.

"Things just kind of kept snowballing for us," Tavares said. "We did some good things, Kyle had a good fight, sacrificed himself. And we got a few big goals from some guys."

The first three Islanders goals came on shots from down low that somehow found a way through Fleury's pads. The fourth snuck in only after another fortunate bounce off the rear boards. It eventually came from the stick of Okposo, who started the comeback with the second-period fight.

New York didn't try anything special, just throwing the puck at the net and hoping for a bounce or a rebound. While the Penguins dominated the first four periods of the series with their skill and precision, the Islanders mounted their comeback with tough, gritty play.

"We put a lot of pucks on net," Tavares said. "We were going to the net and we didn't make it easy.

"We made it a little bit tougher [Friday night] than I guess what we talked about. Going forward, it's going to have to be more and more of that and then to another level because it's just going to get that much more intense."

In particular, Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer, began to find his offensive groove. After going without a shot in the opener, he registered a team-high six shots on goal Friday and earned an assist on Moulson's goal, the Islanders' first this series.

"I think we all probably felt a lot better, just getting into the flow, what it feels like being out there this time of year, this situation," Tavares said.

More than anything, the Islanders proved that they can play with the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. As the teams head to New York Sunday afternoon for Game 3, they will have a chance to make it clear that this series is far from over.

"It's going to feel good [going home]," Okposo said. "It's going to be loud in Uniondale, the fans are going to be into it, and I can't wait to play that game Sunday."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published May 4, 2013 4:00 AM


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