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Islanders spoil Crosby's return, even series

by Shawn P. Roarke

PITTSBURGH -- On a night made to be remembered in the Steel City, the Pittsburgh Penguins hope instead that they can forget quickly.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby made a triumphant return Friday night from a 13-game absence with a two-goal first period for the home team, but the visiting New York Islanders refused to wilt and ended up stealing the night -- and the memories -- with a three-goal comeback for a wild 4-3 win in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Consol Energy Center.

"We've done a lot of growing and maturing this year as a team," Islanders forward Matt Moulson told "It doesn't seem like we ever give up, and we've been through all different scenarios throughout the year -- down, up -- and we've found ways to get wins. Tonight was another example of that."

Colin McDonald, Matt Martin and Kyle Okposo scored three unanswered goals for the Islanders -- all off wild puck bounces of some sort -- to rally New York to its improbable victory.

Okposo, who may have changed the momentum of the game with a spirited fight with a bloodied Matt Niskanen in the second period, scored the go-ahead goal with 7:37 remaining when his spin-o-rama shot missed the net but bounced into the crease area of Marc-Andre Fleury, who misplayed the puck and saw it trickle over the line.

"To get puck luck, you've got to be throwing pucks there," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic told "Coach talked about it last game. When we watched video, we thought that was an area we could improve. You just have to keep throwing pucks on net, throwing it and eventually something will go in.

"Five minutes or whatever left in the game and Kyle throws it at the net, it goes off the boards and Fleury taps it in himself. Good things like that are going to happen for your team hopefully. We just plucked away."

The Islanders fired 79 pucks toward the Pittsburgh goal -- only 42 reached Fleury -- to put the Penguins under a duress that they never experienced in a 5-0 victory two nights earlier.

"When you are throwing pucks at that area, you are going to get bounces," said forward Matt Martin, who tied the game at 3-3 with the put-back of a Josh Bailey shot that missed the net but bounced off the end boards and right onto his stick. "We earned the bounces we got tonight because we worked and that is why we came out on top."

The Islanders, the eighth seed in the East, head home with an unexpected split of the first two games of this series. Game 3 is Sunday afternoon at Nassau Memorial Coliseum (Noon; NBC, RDS, TSN). New York has not won a home playoff game since 2002; the Islanders lost both games at the Coliseum in 2003, '04 and '07.

Meanwhile, the top-seeded Penguins must regroup after blowing a two-goal lead -- a problem that haunted them in a first-round flameout last year -- and try to get this series back in their favor.

"That's the playoffs, that's the nature of it and you can't dwell on things," said Crosby, who had two goals, eight shots and won 14 of 26 faceoffs in 23:21 of ice time. "Whether you win or lose you've got to turn the page pretty quick."

It didn't have to be that way for Pittsburgh, which authored a perfect start.

Evgeni Malkin scored on the opening shift to cap a dominant job of cycling by his line. Crosby scored on the first power play, just 3:19 into the game, with an uncontested slam dunk from the right doorstep. Then, 18 seconds after Moulson scored a power-play goal to half the lead, Crosby scored again -- this time with a bad-angle conversion of a Pascal Dupuis rebound.

Just like that, the party was on as the returning captain was on fire and the Penguins were firing on all cylinders. A mere 68 minutes into the best-of-7 series, the Penguins had their best player back and had outscored the opposition 8-1.

However, Nabokov, so pedestrian to that point, found his game and finished with 30 saves -- including each of the Penguins' last 25 shots.

But just as quickly, the Isles re-inserted themselves into the series and crashed the Crosby coronation party.

"It's funny the way things go in the game," Hamonic told "I don't even think we had that bad a start. They get a real lucky goal on that first shift and the place starts going bananas and then Crosby gets a tap-in empty net and the place is going even crazier. I think after those five minutes, we just did a real good job of settling down.

"In my opinion, hey, it couldn't have got much worse -- we're down 2-0 so we might as well just play. I think maybe you saw, in a sense, everyone on the bench take a deep breath and say 'now we just have to play.' In a weird sense, maybe the monkey got off the back just a little bit and we were just freed up and went out and played."

Some puck luck certainly helped.

Ex-Penguin McDonald made it 3-2 when he went in hard on the forecheck, disrupted play behind the Pittsburgh net and was able to somehow stuff the puck between the near post and Fleury as he curled from behind the net.

More puck luck delivered the Islanders into a tie at 10:37. Bailey took a testing shot on a transition rush, but it went just wide of the net. Fortunately for the visitors, the puck bounced true off the end boards and right onto the stick of the onrushing Martin. He jammed it over Fleury, who had committed to trying to stop Bailey's shot, to pull the Islanders even at 3-3 and set the stage for Okposo's heroics.

"We let our foot off a little bit and they ran with it," said Pittsburgh forward Jarome Iginla, who had two assists. "They got desperate and competed really hard. We get back at it [Sunday] and we've got to bring our compete [level]. It was a great start for us; we were there but we didn't stay as focused as we need to be and they got better as it went on.

"It's the playoffs and lots of things happen and there's lots of back and forth. We'll go over things we need to get better on and stuff. We'll throw it out [Saturday] and remember how hard we need to work and how hard we need to compete. "

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