Penguins lose to Islanders, 6-4


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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- No one disputes that four goals should be enough to win just about any hockey game.

Especially on the road.

Particularly in the playoffs.

"Yeah," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "On a normal night."

Which is to say, a night that isn't much like the one the Penguins endured in their 6-4 loss Tuesday against the New York Islanders in Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series at Nassau Coliseum.

On a normal night, a team doesn't give up a pivotal goal on a pass from behind the goal line.

It doesn't have a world-class center suffer through a sequence that begins with him giving the puck away and ends with him sprawled across his goaltender as the game-winning goal enters the net.

It doesn't look on as its bloated total of goals allowed in a three-game span swells to 14.

"The last three games, we've been giving up way too many goals to win any type of playoff game," defenseman Douglas Murray said. "You might get away with it once or twice, max, in a series, but this is way too much. We have to clean it up."

And the Penguins have precious little time to do it.

The Islanders' victory evened the series, 2-2, heading into Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. Thursday at Consol Energy Center.

That much is certain. Far less clear is who will be in goal for the Penguins when Game 5 begins.

For while what happened cannot be blamed solely on Marc-Andre Fleury, his fingerprints can be found all over the result.

With a proven backup such as Tomas Vokoun available to step in, a switch is something coach Dan Bylsma and his staff figure to seriously consider, even if he said in the wake of Game 4 that "we're not going to talk about our starting goaltender for Game 5 right now."

Bylsma did, however, offer a positive assessment of Vokoun's credentials.

"Tomas Vokoun is a guy who can step in and play," he said. "He's had success and won hockey games against this team. Has had success this year."

Fleury's immediate future, already a subject of considerable discussion as the midpoint of the series approached, become a front-burner topic at 18:36 of the second period.

The Penguins were holding a 3-2 advantage -- the first of two leads they failed to protect -- when New York winger Kyle Okposo tossed a blind backhander from behind the goal line toward the front of the net.

"I think I got pushed," Fleury said. "I turned around and tried to cover the bottom part, and it just went under my stick, hit my pad and bounced in."

And just that quickly, the score was tied and the Islanders were revived after being able to protect a couple of leads of their own.

"The one at the end of the second ... was not a good goal, and one he was a little out of position on," Bylsma said. "That one hurt."

Still, it was a painful blow, not necessarily a lethal one.

Especially when, just 41 seconds into the third period, Pascal Dupuis put the Penguins back in front when he got a piece of a Chris Kunitz shot that ended up behind Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

But at 4:30, a shot by New York defenseman Mark Streit caromed off Murray's skate and got past Fleury to pull the Islanders even and, it seemed, to make the outcome inevitable.

John Tavares got what proved to be the game-winner at the end of an almost-slapstick sequence by Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. It began with him losing the puck in his own zone and ended with him draped over Fleury as the Islanders center punched his own rebound into the net.

Fleury can be absolved of blame for those two goals -- he not only made a sensational stop on Tavares' original shot, but had denied Matt Moulson from point-blank range a few minutes earlier -- but the one that sealed New York's victory is on him.

Casey Cizikas took the puck to the net and one-handed a shot that went under Fleury's stick and into the net.

The game was over. The goaltending debate for Game 5 was just getting start.

Fleury's teammates profess unwavering faith in him -- "That's not an issue," Murray said -- but the decision on a Game 5 starter is not theirs.

Who is selected -- and how that goaltender responds -- might determine whether the Penguins' playoff run makes it beyond the first lap.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 8, 2013 1:45 AM


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