UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- What transpired at the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night was a textbook case of a team that simply knows how to win facing a team that is still trying to learn how.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, playing without four of their best players -- Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek -- overcame all of their injury issues and an early 2-0 deficit and rallied to beat the New York Islanders 6-3.
James Neal scored twice for the Penguins (17-9-4), who avoided a three-game losing streak. His second goal of the evening came moments after a controversial, major elbowing penalty was called on Travis Hamonic, who also received a game misconduct for connecting with Brooks Orpik along the boards in the neutral zone.
Steve Sullivan had a goal and an assist while Evgeni Malkin and Tyler Kennedy each had two assists for the Penguins, who return home to face the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
"I was looking for a response from our team. We were in a hole," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said of the early deficit. "I thought our team responded real well. Our biggest challenge was rebounding from where we were in the last couple games."
The Islanders (9-12-6) lost for the first time in regulation since Nov. 25. David Ullstrom and Milan Jurcina scored before 13 minutes had passed in the opening period, but the 2-0 lead was completely gone by the first intermission.
Al Montoya struggled for the first time in a long time, as the Isles' goaltender allowed six goals on 31 shots. Saturday marked the second time this season the Isles have held a 2-0 lead on the Pens and lost. They will attempt to bounce back on Tuesday at Montreal.
"They got the victory tonight because we were second to all loose pucks," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We didn't win puck battles. We didn't deserve to win that game. I give them credit. They won the battles. We just turned too many pucks over."
The Islanders drew first blood when Ullstrom scored just 4:04 into the game. Ullstrom, who has played a big role in the club's improved play, took a pass from Dylan Reese and blew past Alexandre Picard on the left wing before ripping a high wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury for his second goal of the season.
Jurcina made it 2-0 via the power play at 12:16 of the opening period. With Malkin the box for hooking, Jurcina took a pass from Mark Streit and beat Fleury through a screen with a laser from the right point. It was Jurcina's second goal of the season.
Sullivan cut the deficit in half when he tallied his fifth goal of the season at 14:28 of the first. The Pens capitalized on Streit's inability to clear the puck out of the Isles' zone, as Joe Vitale sent a cross-ice feed to Sullivan that the latter one-timed past Montoya to make it 2-1.
Neal tied it before the end of the period as he beat Montoya with just 28.2 seconds remaining. Hamonic was the culprit on this one, as he turned the puck over to Malkin behind the Isles' net. Malkin quickly spotted Neal in front, where Neal one-timed it home for his 16th goal of the season.
"It's about being more comfortable, being familiar with guys, playing with Geno and Sully," said Neal, who had one goal in 20 games after arriving via trade from Dallas last season. "I want to play the way I know I could."
But the Islanders regained the lead 2:54 into the second on Kyle Okposo's fourth goal of the season. With the teams back at even strength, Okposo cruised into the zone with the puck and fired a high wrister from well inside the right circle past Fleury to make it 3-2.
Pittsburgh tied it less than a minute after Hamonic received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for elbowing Orpik just 15 seconds after Jurcina was called for interference. With the Penguins skating 5-on-3, Montoya made a pair of nice saves on Sullivan and Chris Kunitz, but Neal was on the doorstep to bang home a second rebound for his second goal of the night and League-leading ninth power-play tally of the season.
Hamonic and the Islanders were upset at the call, which gave the Penguins a long 5-on-3 advantage, feeling that Orpik was clipped by his own stick.
"I've watched it numerous times, and that's a play where I probably wouldn't even get credit for a hit," the second-year defenseman said. "You watch the play and I skate by and (it's) minimal contact with the opposing player. He hits himself in the forehead with his own stick. He goes down and he's bleeding … next thing you know, five-minute major and you're kicked out of the game. Tough call to make in those circumstances, I guess.
"You watch that replay, and in my opinion that's a terrible call because I didn't hit him. That wasn't a head-check. That's not my style of play. My style of play is not to hit anyone's head, and I didn't in any sort of way. I kept my elbows down, hit him right in the stomach and he follows through and hits himself in the forehead. It's very frustrating. That's a critical part in the game and then all of a sudden, we're short guys. All that for a hit that you can watch over and over again … it's pretty self-explanatory."
Even Orpik admitted he was taken aback by the call.
"I was surprised it was a five-minute major," he said. "I didn't think it was a five-minute major."
Pascal Dupuis gave the Pens their first lead of the night at 15:58 of the second period. Just 17 seconds after Bylsma used his timeout, Dupuis took a pass from Kennedy and beat Montoya with a 45-foot slap shot from the slot for his ninth goal of the season.
Matt Cooke doubled Pittsburgh's lead just 64 seconds into the third period, when he parked himself in front of the net and slammed Kennedy's rebound past Montoya. It was Cooke's seventh goal of the season. Paul Martin iced the victory when his harmless wrister from the top of the left circle found its way past Montoya at 10:10 of the third. It was Martin's first goal in 30 games this season.
"I think we just stopped working, stopped moving our feet," Isles forward Matt Martin said. "We thought it was going to be an easy game. Obviously, things have been going really well for us lately and I think we're a little too confident in ourselves."
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