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Islanders win again, tie Penguins for first place

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders started their evening by honoring one of the four cornerstones of their 1980s dynasty. They ended it amid cheers of "first place" from the packed house at Nassau Coliseum.

Third-period goals by Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and John Tavares gave the Islanders a 4-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and a sweep of their home-and-home series.

Before the game, the Islanders honored Hall of Fame goaltender Billy Smith, who led them to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83. After that, they went out and played the kind of game the Islanders teams of that era would have been proud of.

The win moved the Islanders (14-6-0), who have won three consecutive games and are 8-1-0 in their past nine, into a tie with Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division at 28 points apiece. The Penguins (13-4-2) have a game in hand on New York.

"Last year is in the past. This is a new hockey club with a new attitude," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "It's playoff hockey even though you're early in the season. A team like [Pittsburgh] brings the best out of you."

But technicalities like games in hand didn't matter to the 16,170 fans who serenaded the Islanders after they dominated the Penguins in the final 20 minutes.

"We're understanding what's bringing us success,” said Tavares, who also started the play that led to Nelson’s power-play goal. "We have a talented hockey club when everyone's committed to doing the right things and doing their job."

Lee put the Islanders ahead for the first time at 2:38 when he got his stick on a put-it-on-the-net slap shot by Lubomir Visnovsky and deflected it past Penguins goalie Thomas Greiss for his third goal of the season.

Penguins got their first power play in the back-to-back games when Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey was called for holding at 5:17. But New York's penalty killers kept Pittsburgh to the outside and limited the NHL's top power-play unit to two shots on goal. The Penguins did not have a power play in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Islanders on Friday at Consol Energy Center.

Nelson gave the Islanders a two-goal lead at 9:47, tapping in a feed from Kyle Okposo to complete a tic-tac-toe passing play that was started by Tavares. It was Nelson's team-high 10th goal of the season and New York's first in 10 power plays against the Penguins in three games this season.

Tavares completed the scoring with 4:14 remaining when he dunked the rebound of Johnny Boychuk's shot from the right point for his eighth goal of the season.

"It was a tie game going into the third [period], so we can't say we didn't give ourselves a chance," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "That being said, we didn't give a very big push in the third period to give ourselves a chance to win. They raised their level and we didn't."

Evgeni Malkin had a first-period goal for the Penguins. Matt Martin got the Islanders even late in the second period.

Greiss made 31 saves in his fourth start of the season. New York's Jaroslav Halak stopped 27 shots to win his sixth consecutive decision.

One key factor in the Islanders' weekend sweep was their ability to shut down Crosby. He entered the weekend with 85 points in 46 career games against the Islanders but was held off the scoresheet in both games.

"He's hurt us pretty bad in the past," Capuano said. "You have to try to contain and limit opportunities. You try and make them defend as much as you can. Obviously you can't do that all the time, but our guys did a good job."

Crosby disagreed with the idea that the Penguins passed up shots instead of putting the puck on the net and going after the rebound.

"I feel we didn't pass up many chances to shoot," he said. "We just couldn't get control of the puck. They carried the play in the offensive zone, and by the time we ended up having to make plays, we didn't have enough energy."

Greiss made the best save of the first period after the 15-minute mark when he denied Tavares after a coast-to-coast rush. Malkin put the Penguins ahead at 16:49 when his wrist shot from the lower left circle leaked through Halak with Pittsburgh forward Nick Spaling crashing the net.

Neither team generated consistent pressure through most of the second period before the Islanders' fourth line tied the game at 18:01. Nick Leddy's shot from the left point hit traffic in front of Greiss; players from both teams flailed away at the puck until it popped out to an unchecked Martin, who backhanded it into the open right side with Greiss down and out of the play.

Martin, who didn't have a goal in the Islanders' first 18 games, scored for the second time in as many nights.

"That was a big goal at the end of the second period," Tavares said. "That line has been playing really well for us. You saw how tenacious and hungry they were in front of the net. They kept that play alive, and got a big one before the end of the second [period].

"We wanted to play our best in the third [period]. We knew we had a lot left in the tank, and we just wanted to wear them down."

Halak kept the game tied with 53 seconds left in the period when he read a play correctly and moved to the top of the blue paint to get in front of Blake Comeau's deflection

Despite the euphoria in the stands, Tavares warned against getting too excited by the Islanders' fast start.

"I honestly think it's one game at a time," he said. "We understand we can be a really good hockey team in this League. But we also understand the work that has to go into it; the details, the execution, the little things that go into it. We need everyone doing that."

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