Islanders squander lead in final seconds, fall to Penguins in shootout

Barzal Islanders Crosby
New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) skates with the puck chased by Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Sidney Crosby scored the lone shootout goal to complete the Pittsburgh Penguins’ steal of two points in a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.

“It was a playoff-style game,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought they played really well, I thought we played really well so I didn’t expect anything different than a really close game.”

Down 3-2 in the final minute, Evgeni Malkin knotted things up for the Penguins with 18 seconds to go, canceling out Mathew Barzal’s brilliant, but temporary, go-ahead goal earlier in the third period.

Coming down the left wing on his own, Barzal was one-on-one with Penguins defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. From forehand to backhand, while evading the reach of the blueliner, Barzal quickly transitioned to his strong side and popped a quick wrister over the shoulder of netminder Casey DeSmith for his fifth goal of the season with 6:25 left in regulation.

“I just had a full head of steam and knew it was a one-on-one,” Barzal said. “Just tried to make a move on him… fortunate enough to get it in.”

DeSmith would exact some revenge on Barzal, though, as he stopped the Islanders’ star — along with Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey — in the shootout to end New York’s two-game winning streak.

Their point streak, however, has improved to five-straight games.

Off the momentum of two classically strong efforts, the Islanders’ fourth line continued its red-hot streak to nab the game’s opening goal in circus-style fashion.

A clear from the Islanders’ zone handcuffed Penguins defender John Marino, who had Casey Cizikas bearing down on him in the middle of the ice. The Islanders’ center was able to poke the puck free and into his path between the dots in front of DeSmith, and while driving to the net — and falling to the ice — he managed to go from backhand to forehand and slide the puck into the back net 5:39 in.

“I can’t really tell you what was going through my head. I might’ve blacked out there for a second,” Cizikas joked. “I was able to make a move somehow and put it in the back of the net.”

It was the third-straight goal that a fourth-liner has scored for the Islanders while the trio of Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck has scored four goals over the last three games.

“We take a lot of pride in how we play and what we bring to this team and how we compete every single night,” Cizikas continued. “We’re working hard every single day to get better.”

The Penguins answered Cizikas’ opener with a strong push and found an equalizer roughly six minutes later when sustained pressure in the Islanders’ zone opened things up for precision passing, sparked by Sidney Crosby to find Jake Guentzel at Semyon Varlamov’s right post. A centering pass to Bryan Rust resulted in an easy tap-in.

With 3:20 remaining in the first, the Islanders took advantage of a Cody Ceci delay-of-game penalty when Jean-Gabriel Pageau tipped home a shot from the point by Nick Leddy. Soft hands were crucial as Leddy’s shot came in just above Pageau’s waist

Pittsburgh punched back with 7:03 gone in the second period as Zach Aston-Reese — who was making his season debut after being activated from injured reserve earlier Thursday morning — stuffed a wraparound attempt under Varlamov.

“We played a good hockey team, it’s tight, tight up at the end and we were short on the extra [point],” captain Anders Lee said. “Any night you can get one, you can build off that and add it to the point total and all those things. It’s definitely better than zero.”

“There’s no reconciliation. You collect points in this league,” Trotz added. “Every night, if you can get a point, it’s huge. We’ll take points every night and we’ll be in good shape, I guarantee that.

“You look at a weekly segment, if you can four, five points a week, you’re in pretty good shape. We’re doing that.”