PITTSBURGH — Never say dieslanders.
Brock Nelson fired the overtime, breakaway winner 2:13 into the extra frame to complete a stunning comeback for the New York Islanders, who came all the way back to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Continuing their recent trend of third-period domination and cardiac comebacks, the Islanders turned around a night in which they were thoroughly dominated by the Penguins flipping a 3-1 third-period deficit to keep their all-important perch atop the Eastern Conference Wild Card standings intact.
“It’s a big win, it’s exciting. Jeeze,” Islanders captain Anders Lee, who scored two goals including the game-tier with 1:15 to go in regulation, said. “It wasn’t our prettiest game of late by any means, but we battled. We fought for that one quite a bit. Last 20 minutes we did everything we could to right the ship and get back in that game.”
Nelson’s breakaway was set up by a vital poke check from goalie Ilya Sorokin, who cut off a Rikard Rakell attempted pass from behind his net, which caromed the puck off the left boards and into the path of the on-rushing Nelson. It turned out to be Sorokin’s first career assist on a night he made 33 saves, including a sterling glove stop on Marcus Pettersson 1:57 into overtime to keep the Islanders alive.
“I was preset on what I was going to do coming up the ice,” Nelson said of his winner, which whizzed past the stick side of Jarry. “I wasn’t thinking deke too much, just thinking speed.”
The Islanders (34-25-8, 76 points) now open a two-point lead over the Penguins — who have three games in hand — for that No. 1 Wild Card spot.
Lee scored the game-tying goal to force overtime just 4:14 after Hudson Fasching pulled the Islanders to within one with his second goal in as many games. The equalizer, however, came just seconds after Penguins forward Jeff Carter’s clear path to an empty net to seal the game was called back for batting a puck out of midair in the Pittsburgh zone with a high stick.
Over their last 10 games, the Islanders have outscored their opponents 17-1 in the third period while they swept the four-game season series from the Penguins for the first time ever. Three of those wins came via third-period comebacks.
“I feel like for whatever reason we’ve found ourselves in that situation a few times this season,” Nelson said. “We’ve just been able to reset after the second and realize where we’re at isn’t a good spot.”
The Islanders grabbed an initial lead just 5:23 into the game on the power play thanks to an Evgeni Malkin interference as Lee stuffed home a centering pass from Bo Horvat that lay amidst a forest of legs in front of Jarry — their lone highlight of a first period that saw the defense struggle mightily.
The Penguins found a reply just 5:44 later when, after Alex Romanov quickly lost a battle in the corner, Jake Guentzel redirected a Pettersson shot past Ilya Sorokin.
With 1:36 to go in the frame, Jason Zucker one-timed a pass from Evgeni Malkin from behind the net home that neither Scott Mayfield nor Matt Martin could get a piece of.
Pittsburgh’s dominance continued into the second and they nabbed their third of the night Josh Archibald, who redirected a Brian Dumoulin shot with a swinging glove hand — a play the Islanders opted not to challenge — 10:49 into the frame.
“I thought the officials did a good job of giving us an opportunity to try and see,” head coach Lane Lambert said of potentially challenging the call, which also featured the puck glancing off an open bench door that should have resulted in the play being called dead. “We didn’t have enough video evidence so we just moved on.”
While the Penguins’ work rate was enough to keep the Islanders out of it, discomposed play made it all the more impossible for the visitors to climb out of their hole. Defenseman Scott Mayfield took three penalties on Thursday night, including two in a four-minute span during the second.
“We weren’t great in the first couple of periods in terms of some of our battles and things like that,” Lambert said of the first two periods. “I thought we corrected them, I thought our guys did a good job of recognizing the situation. Give them full marks.”
Fasching got the Islanders back into it at the 14:31 mark of the third period when he cut across Jarry’s net and snuck a wrister through. It was Fasching’s second goal in as many games after scoring the game-winner on Tuesday night against the Sabres while extending his point streak to three games.
Lee found his second right at the death with the Islanders’ net empty, redirecting a Bo Horvat shot through Jarry’s legs.
“We just needed one, just needed one,” Lee said. “At the end of the day, we were able to find a way.”
- Pierre Engvall, playing in his third game with the Islanders after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, was benched for a second-straight game. After the 50-second mark of the second period, he didn’t receive another shift until there was 2:09 to go in the frame. He also only received two shifts in the third period.
- Anders Lee’s two goals goal moved him into a tie with Bob Bourne for eighth on the franchise’s all-time scoring list (238)