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Penguins' special teams on a roll

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Pittsburgh Penguins' special teams have been just that so far in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders.

Through the first three games of the best-of-7 series, the Penguins' power play has looked every bit like the dynamic unit that finished second in the NHL during the regular season. Pittsburgh's man advantage unit has produced six goals in 13 tries, including three in five attempts in 5-4 overtime victory at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. Two came in a 19-second span of the first period and got the Penguins even after the Islanders grabbed a quick 2-0 lead; the third one, off the stick of Chris Kunitz, won the game in overtime.

The Islanders will have to cool off the Penguins' power play if they hope to even the series by winning Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TDS, RDS).

The Penguins' biggest power-play weapon Sunday was Kunitz, who also scored the second of the two first-period extra-man goals on a breakaway after Jarome Iginla connected during a 5-on-3 advantage.

“The 5-on-3, obviously [we were] very fortunate to be able to get one in there and then come back and get another quick on a great pass by Geno [Evgeni Malkin],” Kunitz said. “Our power play was great. Our PK was great.””

Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov also pointed to the rapid-fire power-play goals as a turning point.

“With the 5-on-3 they got back in the game," Nabokov said. "It seems like every time we go down two men, we don't win hockey games. We have to find a way to stay out of the box as much as possible.

"I thought other than that we played really well."

Added Islanders center John Tavares, whose goal midway through the third period sent the game into overtime: “We have to stay out of the box. They're lethal. They've got a lot of weapons.”

What has to be more alarming for Isles coach Jack Capuano and his players is that the Penguins have made scoring on the power play look easy. Even on the power plays that the Penguins haven't converted, they've invariably had good chances. The only positive on the penalty kill Sunday was a shorthanded goal by Kyle Okposo in the third period – and even that came after the Penguins had gotten some good opportunities.

"We took some wrong routes on the PK," Capuano said. "Their zone entries were way too easy."

The Penguins' success on the power play is no surprise. Their prowess on the penalty kill is.

Pittsburgh's penalty-killers finished 25th during the regular season at 79.6 percent and were facing an Islanders power play that was 11th in the League at just under 20 percent. But they've held the Islanders to one goal on 11 tries and were perfect in three attempts on Sunday – including two in the first period when a power-play goal could have put the Penguins in an insurmountable hole.

"We had our chances. They scored on the power plays and we didn't," Capuano said. "You always talk about special teams being a big factor, and that was the difference."

The Islanders have been as resilient as any coach could ask – they rallied from a two-goal deficit to win Game 2 in Pittsburgh, then dug themselves out of a two-goal hole in the third period on Sunday to force overtime.

But unless the Islanders can step up their play on special teams, they will be hard-pressed to win their first series in two decades.

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