Sidney Crosby celebrates his winning goal -- the 250th of his career -- with Chris Kunitz against the Islanders late in the third period Friday at Consol Energy Center. Kunitz scored the first two Penguins goals of the game.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff stops a shot against the Islanders in the second period. Zatkoff stopped 32 of 35 shots for a .914 save percentage against New York.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This wasn’t a hyped outdoor game. Or a game with Olympic medal implications. Sidney Crosby has been money at times in those.
This wasn’t even an overtime or shootout game.
But Crosby’s flair for the dramatic kicked in to salvage what nearly was a game-gone-wrong. He scored his 250th career goal off of a strong forechecking effort with 1 minute, 16 seconds left in regulation Friday to give the Penguins a 4-3 win against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
It was their third win in a row overall and third in a row at home, but it didn’t come without a couple of bumps and a bruise.
The bumps came in the form of an Islanders comeback from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to tie the score as the game opened up in the second period.
“We had the lead so they started taking chances,” Crosby said of the Islanders. “We kind of got sucked into playing that style of game. They’re pinching [deep] a lot. We’re getting an odd-man rush and instead of managing the puck, we’re taking chances and kind of throwing the puck everywhere.
“When you’re playing that kind of game, whoever is going to score the last goal is going to win.”
The bruise came in the form of Penguins winger Beau Bennett leaving the game in the third period with an unspecified injury. Coach Dan Bylsma said Bennett was still being evaluated after the game.
Center Evgeni Malkin exorcized a bad scoring slump when he gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead at 6:25 of the second period. Coming down the slot, he took a feed from linemate James Neal and flipped the puck over sprawled Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin.
That came after 15 games without a goal for Malkin.
“He had breakaway,” Malkin said of Neal. “I’m not ready [for the pass]. Last second, I shoot the puck. It was a surprise to me.”
To Byslma, too.
“I gave James some grief when he came back to the bench,” Bylsma said. “He should have shot that one. He had a great opportunity, and he elected to go to [Malkin]. But it did find its way to the net.
“It was a good moment for [Malkin], getting a result and getting a goal. He’s played some real good hockey and done some good things.
“But next time James should shoot it.”
Malkin threw himself into the glass after the goal, a standard celebration for him.
The Penguins might have started celebrating as a team a little too soon.
Colin McDonald, at 11:33 of the second period, and Thomas Vanek, with his second of the game at 1:21 later, tied the score for New York.
There was an eerie similarity between this game and the previous time the Islanders visited.
On Oct. 25, with rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff in net, the Penguins took 2-1 and 3-2 leads, but New York scored three goals in the third period for a 4-3 win.
This time, Zatkoff and the Penguins came away with the win, by the same score. Zatkoff, making his fourth start of the season and his career, stopped 32 of New York’s 35 shots to improve to 2-2.
“Every game’s a new one,” said Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, who scored two power-play goals in the first period.
“We shouldn’t have a lull, especially against a team that’s already done it to us earlier this year.We talked about how they came back in the third and showed us up. We should be more disciplined with the puck and understanding the situation. It got away from us. We were fortunate to find a way to win.”
Kunitz gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead. From beyond the right goal post, he finished off a slick tic-tac-toe series to make it 1-0 at 4:04. He got the puck from Crosby, who took a pass from Malkin.
It was the 20th assist for Malkin, but he still didn’t have the goal to end his career-long drought at that point.
Kunitz got his 12th goal at 7:55 on a slap shot from the right circle that sailed over Poulin’s glove. That made it 2-0.
It’s not a statistic that the NHL tracks, but if it did, it certainly seems as if Kunitz would be the modern-day leader in disallowed goals. This time, one robbed him of a chance to get a natural hat trick.
With 1:10 left in the first period, he had a goal overturned by a hooking penalty called against Malkin.
“Unfortunately, that would be a bad [category] to lead,” Kunitz said, smiling but shaking his head. “They’re the breaks. Sometimes things happen.”
The Penguins — who play tonight in Montreal — were coming off of what they considered one of their best, most complete games of the season in a 4-0 win Wednesday at Washington.
This was no carbon copy.
“We got away a little bit from what we wanted to do in the second period that kind of opened us up, turned it into a rush game,” Zatkoff said. “We regrouped … and got back to our game in the third.
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