PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins were a good team even without Evgeni Malkin. With him, they believe they can score during any shift the former NHL scoring champion is on the ice and can rally from any reasonable deficit.
Even if there was nothing to suggest for more than a year that they could pull off a comeback like this one.
Malkin was the only skater to find the net in the shootout, and the Penguins rallied to win a game while trailing after two periods for the first time in two seasons by beating the division rival New York Islanders 3-2 on Thursday night.
Of course, it helps that they almost always beat the Islanders in Pittsburgh, no matter the circumstances. Any these circumstances were more than unusual, with Islanders coach Jack Capuano pulling goaltender Evgeni Nabokov because of a lower-body injury after he held off the Penguins in the five-minute overtime and replacing him with Rick DiPietro.
Nabokov was strong in net all night, stopping 30 shots, but he said the unspecified injury had bothered him since late in the first period. By the end of the frantic overtime, he was badly fatigued.
"I didn't have much power," said Nabokov, who came in with an 8-2 record against Pittsburgh. "Sometimes you have to be smart when you make those decisions."
Capuano said he had no problem inserting DiPietro, who hadn't played all season.
"Nabby obviously wasn't feeling well, so we had to use Ricky," Capuano said of the stunning switch. "Nabby was feeling it a little bit, in certain areas. He was getting a little fatigued, and it could have been a situation, so we had to use Rick."
DiPietro – felled by a punch from opposing goalie Brent Johnson when he last played in Pittsburgh in February -- stopped Kris Letang, Pittsburgh's first shooter.
But after Frans Nielsen shot the puck into Fleury's pads, Malkin dangled the puck on his stick, waited until the last moment to shoot and somehow tucked a forehand shot under DiPietro's stacked pads.
"I didn't do my good move," said Malkin who has converted both of his shootout attempts this season after previously being 7 of 29. "I was surprised to see him fall down. It was a lucky move."
New York's final two shooters, PA Parenteau and John Tavares, also missed around James Neal's too-wide shot for the Penguins, who were an NHL-worst 0-19-1 when trailing after two periods last season. Pittsburgh's last such comeback was the decisive Game 6 of their 2010 playoff series against Ottawa, which they won 4-3 after trailing 3-0.
Nielsen and Matt Martin scored the Islanders' first two goals in Pittsburgh in more than a year -- since Oct. 15, 2010 -- but it didn't matter as New York dropped its sixth in a row on the road dating to March 30.
"It's mandatory," Martin said. "You have a 2-0 lead in the third period, you've got to come out with a win. It's inexcusable to give up two goals and let them come back in overtime and win the game. We didn't have a lot of shots on net and still had a 2-0 lead. At some point we've got to bear down there and make sure we win the game."
Chris Kunitz and James Neal tied it with goals less than three minutes apart in the third period. Marc-Andre Fleury was strong in net for the second time in three nights against the Islanders, who have lost 12 in a row in Pittsburgh over a span of nearly four years.
"He's a game-changing player," Kunitz said of Malkin, who teamed with him on a tic-tac-toe passing sequence to set up Neal's tying goal – Neal's ninth in 12 games. "He can go out and beat someone 1-on-1 or 1-on-2. Any time you have that on a team, you believe that if you're only one or two goals down, you can always fight back and claw your way into it."
Fleury, who shut out the Islanders 3-0 Tuesday night on Long Island, had to make only 17 saves while improving to 7-0 against New York in Pittsburgh. He is 10-0-2 in his last 12 against the Islanders; the Penguins are 17-2-2 in their last 21 against them.
The Penguins won their fifth in a row overall. The Islanders lost their fourth straight despite taking the 2-0 lead on Nielsen's goal in the final 1:01 of the first period and Martin's goal 45 seconds into the third.
Nielsen's goal was the Islanders' first in Pittsburgh since Radek Martinek scored in the second period last Oct. 15.
But Kunitz answered 44 seconds after Martin scored. Letang faked a shot from the right point only to throw a pass toward Pascal Dupuis along the goal line, and Dupuis steered it through the crease to Kunitz for a tap-in.
Neal, who is making up for some of the offense the Penguins are missing without the injured Sidney Crosby (concussion), tied it at 4:15 on the power play with Kyle Okposo off for goaltender interference.
It was Malkin's first point since he had two assists against Washington on Oct. 13; he missed the next five games with right knee soreness before returning Tuesday.
Pittsburgh had a power play for the final 35 seconds of overtime following Mark Streit's penalty for tripping Letang as he drove toward the net, but the Penguins didn't score and finished went 1 for 6 with the man advantage.
Long before that, Nielsen opened the scoring with 61 seconds left in the first period with his second of the season. Okposo deftly redirected Streit's pass to the slot between his legs and toward the net, and Nielsen punched in the rebound.
The Penguins believed they had the opening goal, but what would have been Jordan Staal's seventh of the season – at 7:38 of the first – was immediately waved off because Matt Cooke slid to his left toward the crease and bumped into Nabokov as the play developed.
There was no penalty for interference -- but also no goal because Nabokov couldn't free up his glove to play the shot. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma did not dispute the call.
1 - 0 NYI
2 - 0 NYI
2 - 1 NYI