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Islanders put their trust in Nabokov

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y.Evgeni Nabokov will be the first to tell you his numbers through four appearances in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't the greatest.

His goals-against average is 4.55. His save percentage is .846.

Those statistics would lead you to believe Nabokov and the New York Islanders were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Not so fast.

In yet another up-and-down affair Tuesday night, Nabokov's 27 saves were enough to help the Islanders even the series at two wins apiece with a 6-4 victory at a raucous Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN). Of course, Nabokov would like to sweeten his stats. But considering the firepower the Penguins possess, it's more about simply playing well enough to come away with a win.

"If you look at the goals, they score good goals, they score off their sticks, off their feet … I think the biggest thing is, move on to the next shot," Nabokov said after he improved to 2-2 this postseason. "I tried to make saves and trust the guys that they're going to do the job."

That's exactly what transpired in the third period of Game 4. Nabokov stopped 11 of the 12 shots he faced, none bigger than the save he made midway through, when he robbed Pascal Dupuis with a pad save as the Penguins' winger cruised into the slot.

Moments after the save, John Tavares scored what proved to be the game-winner. Nabokov was asked if his teammates fed off what was unquestionably his biggest save of the night.

"I don't know. I hope so," Nabokov said. "At this point, you don't want to think too much. You just try to make the stop. You look and you give up four goals, three goals, five goals … but you just worry about the next stop."

Nabokov knew Pittsburgh was going to get scoring chances in the third period, especially after Isles defenseman Andrew MacDonald suffered an upper-body injury after being hit with a slap shot in the second. With New York down to five blueliners, the Penguins created some havoc in the offensive zone, but Nabokov's club played a disciplined period and found a way to even the series.

"We knew that A-Mac was done, so we got to make sure we stay out of the box," Nabokov said. "That was, I think, the biggest key for us. If we had found ourselves in the penalty box, I think we would have been in big trouble against that team."

A team that added James Neal to its lineup after the Pens' forward missed Games 2 and 3 with a lower-body injury. He joined a group that also boasts two of the best centers in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- not to mention talented wingers such as Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and Jarome Iginla.

Perhaps that's why Nabokov's numbers aren't among the League leaders?

"Going into this series, if anybody thought that Pittsburgh wasn't going to score, then you might as well follow another series," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said prior to Game 4. "They're the highest-scoring team in the League, they've got great experience, the acquisitions that they made [at the NHL Trade Deadline] … they've got world-class players. They've got a couple of guys on the blue line that get involved transitionally.

"We don't want to get in a shootout, but with the way the games are going, every game is a challenge. It's a test. Games might be like that. But I have total confidence in Nabokov that he can do the job for us."

He'll have to do it again in Game 5, as the Penguins will likely come out flying at Consol Energy Center with hopes of avenging Tuesday's loss at the Coliseum. Given the amount of experience in Pittsburgh's dressing room, Nabokov knows the Penguins won't dwell on what happened in Game 4 for very long.

"I don't think there's any fear in that locker room because they've been there," Nabokov said of the Penguins. "They know what it takes to win. Obviously, they were Stanley Cup champs [in 2009]. They're an experienced group. We don't expect them to [have] fear at all."

If the Islanders showed fear in a 5-0 loss in Game 1, they've certainly overcome it since then. Nabokov, one of the few in the dressing room who has participated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before, is excited to see just how much the Isles have grown since he first arrived in New York in the fall of 2011.

"The passion of this team is unbelievable," Nabokov said. "We make mistakes, but the passion, the desire, the heart … I try to not be as emotional as the guys and I try to stay composed and be ready for whatever comes my way."


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