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Islanders 9, Penguins 3

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Inside Nassau Coliseum on Friday night, a crowd of 12,888 fans witnessed passion in one of its purest forms. In a hard-hitting, high-scoring game, fans got to watch one of the most penalized games in recent memory characterized by 15 fighting majors, 11 game misconducts, and 346 penalty minutes. And at the end of 60 minutes, the New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 9-3.

“(This) shows – especially in our locker room – what everyone means to each other,” John Tavares said. “We’ll do anything for each other. We made sure – especially going out in the third period – that we were protecting each other. We were talking to each other, we had our heads up, we weren’t putting anyone at risk, and if they had one guy in there we tried to have at least one or two.”

The emotions were the result of pent up frustrations from a difficult season, but also because of the last time these two teams met in Pittsburgh (Feb. 2). In that game, Maxime Talbot hit Blake Comeau from behind – causing the Isles forward to be placed on injured reserve due to a concussion. It's also the same game of the now-infamous goalie fight between Rick DiPietro and Brent Johnson, which resulted in DiPietro's facial fractures.

Zenon Konopka #28 of the New York Islanders exchanges words with Maxime Talbot #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 9-3. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“For us, it’s been really frustrating all season long,” Zenon Konopka said. “There’s been a few things out of our control, and a few things in our control. It wasn’t just a direct hit at Pittsburgh, they just kind of fell in the way. It was a lot emotions built up. It goes to demonstrate how close a bunch we have in here.”

Hence, the game was expected to be chippy.

It started in the first period when Micheal Haley took down Craig Adams. Then Matt Martin got things started 5:21 into the second. In that one stoppage of play, three separate fights broke out and all the players involved were ejected from the game. Martin dropped the gloves on Talbot, but ended up fighting Deryk Engelland. Josh Bailey took down Pascal Dupuis and Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic fought Michael Rupp.

“There was a lot of emotion out there tonight,” Tavares said. “We came out and really dominated early. It set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s nice to get a win against those guys, score some goals. They shut us out the last time. It was pretty entertaining out there for the fans and we’ll take it.”

But Hamonic was just getting started. The Isles rookie started off the team’s scoring when he scored at 8:51 of the first period. The goal, a slap shot from the space between the blueline and the top of the right faceoff circle, traveled through traffic before beating Johnson low glove side. It was his second goal of the season, but he also had an assist on the fourth goal, taking a Gordie Howe hat trick.

While Haley got the fisticuffs started in the first, it wouldn't be all you'd hear of him in his season debut. He scored his first career NHL goal, which was also the Islanders sixth goal of the contest 3:46 into the second period. And Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma responded by pulling the goaltender, replacing him with Marc-Andre Fleury.

But Johnson returned to the game to start the third period and Haley got the crowd to their feet. At 4:47, the Isles call-up started a fight with Talbot and in the same stoppage of play, he took on Johnson when the goaltender left his crease and skated out to the blueline. Eric Godard jumped off the bench to come to Johnson’s aid.

Micheal Haley #59 of the New York Islanders instigates a fight with goaltender Brent Johnson #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“The kid’s a competitor,” Matt Moulson said. “He’s got some skill, but he’s tough as nails. He’ll do anything for his teammates. I’ve had the chance to be with him the last two seasons and he’s just a phenomenal kid who does what he has to.”

Jesse Joensuu, who the Isles recalled earlier in the day, scored the Isles second goal 12:52 into the opening period. The goal was his fourth NHL goal of the season. PA Parenteau netted a power play goal from the paint at 17:48 as he anxiously awaited a pass from Hamonic to bring the score to 3-0.

Michael Grabner had his nightly breakaway opportunity and was tripped up by Zybnek Michalek, earning a penalty shot at 13:25. While he was unsuccessful, the rookie got his next opportunity to beat Johnson at 19:12 (scoring his 20th goal of the season) to end the first period with a 4-0 lead.

Tavares scored the Islanders fifth goal at 3:16 of the second period (to score his 20th goal of the season) and Haley scored his goal just 30 seconds later to bring the Islanders ahead 6-0.

After the goaltending change, the Isles took a few penalties. When they were shorthanded, Kris Letang scored a power play goal at 6:08 and then Jordan Staal closed the gap 6-2 at 9:04, while the Isles were down 5-on-3. Tyler Kennedy scored Pittsburgh’s final goal 7:46 in the third period, while on the power play.

Moulson netted back-to-back goals to close out the second stanza and give the Isles a 8-2 advantage. The first was an even strength goal at 13:31 and the second was a power play goal scored at 17:50. The goals were his 20th and 21st of the season.

Grabner completed the Islanders scoring when he scored his second goal of the contest (and 21st goal of the season), with an unassisted breakaway goal at 17:51, bringing the final score 9-3.

“He’s playing to his strength,” Capuano said. “We talked about how good defense leads to good offense. He’s using his speed. He has tremendous speed and acceleration. He’s finding ways.  It’s tough for a D to hold their gap against a guy that quick.”

Tavares, Grabner and Moulson have now all surpassed the 20 goal mark.

“Those are good personal goals to reach I think,” Moulson said. “But it is about getting wins. If we get guys scoring as much as we can, it’s going to get a lot of wins for us. I was happy to see Johnny and Grabs get it. Grabby’s been playing phenomenal. He’s been a freak of nature lately. It’s really special to watch him on this tear he’s had.”

Lost amongst the fists and fury was an outstanding performance by rookie goaltender Mikko Koskinen who made 35 saves against the talented Penguins offense to record back-to-back wins.

“He made some big stops,” Moulson said. “Seems like he just gets more and more confident with each period. We kind of threw him in the fire the first game he had to play. After about his first five minutes when he had his nerves going, he’s been playing great.”

The Isles look to extend their record to a three-game win streak when they take on the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon at HSBC Arena.

Islanders lineups

26 Matt Moulson - 91 John Tavares - 15 PA Parenteau
40 Michael Grabner - 51 Frans Nielsen - 21 Kyle Okposo
17 Matt Martin - 12 Josh Bailey - 58 Jesse Joensuu
59 Michael Haley - 28 Zenon Konopka - 14 Trevor Gillies

47 Andrew MacDonald - 36 Travis Hamonic
27 Milan Jurcina - 38 Jack Hillen
8 Bruno Gervais - 24 Radek Martinek

1 Mikko Koskinen
35 Al Montoya

44 Rob Schremp
6 Ty Wishart
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