For a while there, it appeared as if the New York Islanders
' third-period woes were long behind them.
But a harsh reality came crashing down on the Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night, as the Isles blew a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins
cut it to 3-1 with just under 20 seconds remaining in the second period, followed by a goal from Sidney Crosby
and a natural hat trick by Evgeni Malkin
, including his final goal of the night, which was an empty-net tally with 17.5 seconds left.
''It was crazy, but it was a fun game,'' Crosby said. ''We seemed to capitalize on every chance in that period. We don't look to quit. A lot of leads are tough to hold. It's happened to us a few times.''
The Islanders have been the poster boys this season in such situations. The first wasted lead to the Penguins -- a 4-3 shootout loss on Nov. 8 -- marked the fourth time in five games New York had squandered a third-period advantage. All but one of those were two-goal leads.
"We gave up 6 scoring chances in the second period, and 3 came on our power play," Isles coach Scott Gordon
said. "We were too casual and had no urgency. They have an aggressive penalty kill and we were rolling the dice on our power play."
Once again, the Islanders controlled the tempo in the early going. Doug Weight
opened the scoring with a power-play goal 7:45 into the game, and Trent Hunter
followed with his ninth goal of the season just 1:10 later. Bill Guerin
made it 3-0 via the power play at 9:27 of the second, which chased starting goalie Dany Sabourin
from the Penguins' net.
With Marc-Andre Fleury
sidelined, the Pens turned to 24-year-old John Curry
, who ended up a winner in his NHL debut.
''I didn't have time to think. All I could do was just go in and play,'' said Curry, a Minnesota native. ''Believe me, it was very nerve-racking.''
Orpik's goal, his second of the season, certainly helped Curry relax. With time winding down in the second period, Orpik fired a shot from the point through a crowd and past Joey MacDonald
to make it 3-1.
Without a doubt, there was a "Here we go again" feeling making its way around the Coliseum -- a feeling that turned out to be justified.
Malkin found Crosby with a pass to the left of MacDonald, as the Penguins captain straddled the goal line, and Crosby slammed in his eighth goal at 6:18 to make it 3-2. Crosby then zipped a pass from the left-wing side to Malkin, who took the pass as he streaked down the middle and snapped in a shot with 8:57 left.
Fifty seconds later, it wasn't.
Isles defenseman Andy Sutton
brought the puck out from behind his net, but lost it right to Crosby. From his knees, No. 87 sent a pass to Malkin, who scored while falling.
''I think it hit some snow and I kind of just over-skated it,'' Sutton said. ''You can't do that when the best player in the world is three feet behind you. I am a veteran guy on this team and I have to make the right play at the right time. That was the worst conceivable play.''
For Malkin and Crosby, it was one of those periods where their talents took over. For much of the period, they made their opponents look like deer in headlights.
''We shot every shot we could. That's the way we try to play,'' said Malkin, who has 10 goals. ''It feels good to get all those goals, but it feels more good to win.''
Two nights earlier, the Islanders benefited from a mistake by Montreal Canadiens
defenseman Ryan O'Byrne
, who fired the puck into his own net on a delayed penalty. The gaffe tied the game for the Isles with just under 5 minutes left in regulation, and they would go on to win a shootout.
On Wednesday, it was Sutton's error that helped seal his team's fate. He won't have much time to think about it, as the Isles will visit the Boston Bruins
on Friday in a noon start.
''I definitely didn't laugh at that poor kid,'' Sutton said. ''It can happen to anybody at any time. I feel bad for the mistake, but we'll rebound.
''We've definitely learned our lesson this year. There is a lot of talent in this League, and if you sit back just the littlest bit -- it might not even be noticeable to the eye -- teams are going to take advantage of it.''
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.