Slow start, fast finish for Penguins in 4-2 win over Islanders


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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Penguins did not anticipate the way they played in the first period of their game Friday night at Nassau Coliseum.

They couldn't really explain it, either.

But they did manage to overcome it.

Mostly because goalie Tomas Vokoun refused to let them absorb the defeat they so richly deserved after those 20 minutes.

Vokoun made 13 of his 33 stops in the first period of what became a 4-2 Penguins victory against the New York Islanders, who easily could have been up by a field goal -- or more -- at the intermission.

"Our goaltender played unbelievable," center Brandon Sutter said. "He kept us in the game."

Vokoun wasn't named one of the three stars of the game, which would seem to indicate that the selectors had an even more spectacular honor in mind.

It certainly couldn't have been because they believed that Chris Kunitz, Sutter and Josh Bailey, who were stars No. 1-3, respectively, had a greater impact on the outcome than Vokoun.

If not for him, the Penguins would have been seeking to avoid a two-game losing skid, not to extend their winning streak to 12 games, when Philadelphia visits Sunday night at Consol Energy Center.

New York had a 14-3 advantage in shots in the opening period, and might have had an even more lopsided edge in play.

"They played really well, played really hard and really took it to us," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Penguins were without center Evgeni Malkin, who missed his seventh consecutive game with an apparent shoulder injury, and defenseman Kris Letang, who sat his second in a row after apparently aggravating a leg injury Sunday against Boston.

Malkin was placed on injured-reserve a few hours before the game, when the Penguins recalled center Trevor Smith from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre.

Smith filled in for right winger Tyler Kennedy, who did not play because of illness.

Because Malkin already has been out more than seven days, he is eligible to leave injured reserve at any time, as soon as there is a spot for him on the 23-man major league roster.

He might not have been in any hurry to get back in uniform after watching his teammates in the opening period. Not with the way New York dominated play.

"We weren't moving our feet and weren't executing," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "It's not very fun to play hockey like that."

The only reason there was meaningful hockey to be played after the first intermission was that Vokoun rejected everything except a Mark Streit shot in the first period.

"We were fortunate to have some big saves by Vokoun," Bylsma said. "We were fortunate to keep it at one."

No one argued disagreed, although Vokoun tried to shrug off the praise he received.

"I've been through games this year when I was not playing so good and the team lifted me," he said. "We're all connected with each other.

"Some nights, you help the team and some nights, the team is going to help you."

Some of that help began to arrive in the second period, as Joe Vitale pulled the Penguins even at 8:11 by beating New York goalie Evgeni Nabokov from the left dot for his second of the season.

And after Bailey swatted in a loose puck to put the Islanders back on top at 17:18, Kunitz scored from the slot with 13.8 seconds to go before intermission to tie the score again.

That put the Penguins, who have thrived in third periods, in a position where they were quite comfortable: Facing an opponent that has struggled in the third and had played -- and lost -- a game the previous evening.

Their confidence proved to be well-founded just 106 seconds after play resumed, as Sutter converted a set-up by Matt Cooke and scored what proved to be the winner from the left side of the crease.

The Penguins' penalty-killers, who struggled so much of the season, sealed the victory by snuffing two New York power plays in the final 7 1/2 minutes of regulation, not allowing the Islanders a single shot on either.

"They were huge kills," Bylsma said.

And it was a pretty large victory, too, since it raised the Penguins' record to 24-8 and extended their winning streak to 11 games, matching the third-longest run in franchise history.

"It's been a lot of fun for me, and I think it's been a lot of fun for the guys," Vokoun said. "It's fun to win."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published March 23, 2013 4:00 AM


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