BOSTON -- The Penguins made winning look easy for about 35 minutes last night.
Then they made losing look even easier for the 30 that followed.
Along the way, they trashed the adage that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey -- they proved that being up by four guarantees nothing -- but managed to salvage a 5-4 shootout victory against Boston at TD Banknorth Garden.
"We were here to get two points, and we got two points," coach Michel Therrien said. "After 60 minutes, if you score four goals on the road, you should win the game. No matter what."
True enough, but it probably shouldn't take a shootout to make it happen. Fact is, if the Penguins had lost this game, the psychological aftershocks might have rumbled through their locker room for quite a while.
- Matchup: New York Islanders at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Dany Sabourin for Penguins. Rick Di-Pietro for Islanders.
- Penguins: Are opening four-game homestand after playing seven of past eight on road. ... C Sidney Crosby has 10 goals, 24 assists in 18 career games against Islanders. ... Are 4-2 in second game when playing on consecutive nights.
- Islanders: Are 2-7-1 in past 10 games. ... D Brendan Witt, who scored his first goal in 71 games Wednesday, does not have any in 42 career games against Penguins. ... Have allowed league-high five shorthanded goals on road.
- Hidden stat: Islanders have been outscored, 25-12, in first period.
"It would have been real disappointing [to lose], especially after we played so well the first half of the game," said forward Erik Christensen, who had one goal in regulation and another in the shootout.
Penguins goalie Ty Conklin, making his first NHL start of the season, finished with 37 saves and turned aside Phil Kessel and Marco Sturm in the shootout. Those stops, combined with successful shots by Christensen and Kris Letang, clinched the victory.
"Even though we let in four goals, [Conklin] was unbelievable the whole game," Christensen said.
So was the Evgeni Malkin-Sidney Crosby-Colby Armstrong line during the first half of the game.
"It was good that we put Crosby, Malkin and Armstrong [together]," Therrien said. "They gave us offense."
Lots of it.
Malkin scored two goals, Armstrong set up three and Crosby had a goal and two assists, although his most striking stat might have been the five-minute penalty he picked up for fighting Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference at 5:09 of the second period.
Crosby acquitted himself quite nicely -- he threw punches with a vigor that belied the reality of it being his first fight as a pro -- but allowed later that, "It's nothing I'm going to make a habit of, by any means."
While his goal and two assists had more of an impact on the game than his fight did, Crosby earned a favorable review from Ference for his effort.
"He's strong," Ference said. "I think we're probably about the same caliber of fighter. He probably picked a good partner for his first one."
Although the Penguins could not manufacture a goal in 60 minutes against the New York Rangers Tuesday, they needed only 55 seconds to get one last night.
Crosby fed a pass from inside the right circle to Malkin in the slot, and Malkin buried the puck behind Bruins goalie Tim Thomas for his 12th goal of the season.
Armstrong then set up Crosby at 8:26 to make it 2-0, as he threw a pass to the front of the net and Crosby steered it between Thomas' legs for his 16th.
After Thomas made a superb stop on a point-blank shot by Christensen at 9:47, Malkin beat him from about 45 feet on the right side of the slot at 11:53 to put the Penguins up by 3.
"We knew we had to bounce back from the last game," Armstrong said. "And we came out flying."
Any hope Boston had of coming back seemed to be snuffed at 11:26 of the second, when Christensen used his backhand to deflect in a Ryan Whitney point shot for his fourth of the season. But the Bruins rebounded with a pair of special-teams goals before the intermission.
Sturm sliced the Penguins' lead to 4-1 when he tipped a Ference shot past Conklin during a power play at 16:04, and P.J. Axelsson picked up a short-handed goal by beating Conklin from near the top of the left circle at 17:38.
The Penguins clung to their advantage -- barely -- for most of the third period, but Petteri Nokelainen rapped in a Ference rebound at 13:14 and Dennis Wideman scored on a power play at 17:05 to force overtime.
"It felt like we were in control of the game the whole time, so we weren't expecting them to come pour it on," Christensen said. "When they did, it was tough to respond."
"It probably is an opportunity for us to learn a lesson," Conklin said. "Without the pain of losing two points."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .