Penguins beat Islanders, 4-2
Penguins goalie Ty Conklin (35) blocks a shot on goal from New York Islanders' Richard Park (10) as teammate Sergei Gonchar (55), of Russia, helps defend during the third period of last night's hockey game in Uniondale, N.Y.
Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro (39) and teammate Freddy Meyer (44) look away as the Penguins celebrate a goal by Jordan Staal during the third period of last night's hockey game in Uniondale, N.Y.
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Yes, the Penguins took some bad penalties last night.
Made plenty of unforced errors, too.
Lost a lot of battles.
Add up all the bad things they did wrong or poorly in a 4-2 victory against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, and the total might be downright staggering.
No matter how large it is, it wouldn't be greater than 50, which is the number of saves goalie Ty Conklin made in one of his finest performances in a two-plus month stretch that's been full of them.
"He certainly deserved to win the game," coach Michel Therrien said.
Whether Conklin's teammates did is another matter -- "It was an awful [first] two periods for ourselves," left winger Ryan Malone said -- but the bottom line is that the Penguins (36-21-7) pulled within a point of first-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference standings.
They also played shorthanded most of evening, and not only because they took 10 penalties. They didn't have wingers Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Hal Gill, who were acquired in trades a few hours before the game, and forwards Erik Christensen and Colby Armstrong were gone after being dealt to Atlanta.
The Penguins recalled forwards Connor James and Nathan Smith from their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre so they could field a 20-man lineup, but those two did not arrive until the middle of the second period.
Mind you, it was worth the trip for James, who scored his first career NHL goal just hours after getting his first promotion over a supermarket intercom.
Turns out his cell phone had broken earlier in the day and James, just back in northeast Pennsylvania after a brief stint with the Penguins, was grocery shopping when the team got word he was being recalled.
He was checking out steaks when Baby Penguins coach Todd Richards contacted the store and had James paged on the public-address system so he could tell him that he had 20 minutes to get ready for a trip to Long Island.
"It was kind of weird," James said.
Yeah, just a bit.
James and Smith were driven to the game by Baby Penguins executive Jeff Barrett but, because of heavy traffic and foul weather, didn't reach the arena until the first intermission, and did not make it onto the ice until the game was half over.
By then, Conklin already had made more than two dozen saves, starting with a run of 13 unanswered shots by the Islanders after the opening faceoff.
"We wanted to make sure [Conklin] was ready," Malone said, smiling. "Just in case we ever need another 50-save game."
Despite New York's strong start, Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 10:50 of the opening period when he capitalized on a Petr Sykora rebound for his 36th goal of the season and first point in three games, and Jeff Taffe made it 2-0 by rapping in a rebound from the right side of the crease during a power play at 17:52.
After Frans Nielsen steered a Jeff Tambellini pass behind Conklin at 10:26 of the second, Jordan Staal got the eventual winner, beating goalie Rick DiPietro from inside the left circle at 12:55 of the third.
James got the Penguins' final goal by tossing a backhander by DiPietro at 16:58, and Ruslan Fedotenko closed out the scoring when he converted a Josef Vasicek rebound during a power play at 18:43.
Important as the two points the Penguins earned are, they might have come at a cost.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi missed most of the game with a lacerated little finger on his left hand he received while blocking a shot in the first period. His finger was badly swollen and heavily wrapped after the game, but X-ray results weren't available yet.
Sykora, meanwhile, hobbled to the bench with an apparent leg injury with less than four minutes to go in regulation, although Therrien said afterward that Sykora is "OK."
Injuries are part of the game, of course. So are lapses in focus, especially on a day when two popular teammates were traded.
"I don't think our concentration was there," Therrien said. "We didn't play our best game."
Most of his players didn't have to. Not when Ty Conklin played his.
First Published February 27, 2008 12:00 am