The Penguins faced a lot of distractions heading into the game against the New York Islanders on Firday. After the penalty-filled game on Feb. 11 at Nassau Coliseum, the Penguins had to avoid focusing too much on the past. They also couldn’t scoreboard watch, as Philadelphia and Tampa Bay were playing in two crucial games with playoff implications.
But the Penguins only had one goal – pick up two points and clinch home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. And they succeeded, thanks to Chris Kunitz’s shootout goal that earned the Penguins a 4-3 victory over the Islanders on Friday night.
Tempers flared a little bit in the first period, which was a spillover from the Feb. 11 contest. But things settled down in the second period and fans were treated to an excellent playoff-like game that featured some fast-paced back-and-forth action.
The intensity never lacked, as the Islanders battled back from both a 2-0 and a 3-2 deficit to force overtime. Both goaltenders, Marc-Andre Fleury and Al Montoya, dueled throughout overtime and the shootout, until Kunitz’s wrister in the third round beat Montoya five-hole to win the game.
With Philadelphia’s overtime loss to Buffalo on Friday night, the Penguins’ 104 points in the standings are tied with the Flyers for first place in the Atlantic Division. Philadelphia holds the tiebreaker, however, with 43 regulation and overtime wins, while the Penguins only have 38.
And now, after the Penguins defeated the Islanders, they need the Islanders to do them a favor by beating Philadelphia Saturday night so the Penguins can have a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their final game on Sunday at Atlanta.
Prior to the March 8 contest against Buffalo, Zbynek Michalek was stuck in a 91-game goalless drought. But in the past month, he’s tickled the twine five times, and he also chipped in with two assists in that span.
Head coach Dan Bylsma noticed that Michalek’s shot – which was already one of the strongest on the team – was becoming an important asset, so he placed Michalek on the top power-play unit.
Michalek thanked Bylsma with a timely power-play goal in the second period, as he sniped a shot through traffic and past Al Montoya to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Kris Letang sent a pass from the right point straight to Michalek’s wheelhouse on the left point. Mike Rupp was busy creating havoc in the crease, giving Michalek the opportunity to send the laser into the cage.
And Michalek’s offensive outburst isn’t affecting his defensive dominance. He dished out four hits, and finished with a whopping 31:37 of ice time, including significant time on both the power play – which scored one goal – and the penalty kill – which stifled six of the Islanders’ seven power plays.
He also saved a potential tying goal early in the first period when Michael Grabner beat the defense for a breakaway. Michalek hustled back, dove toward Grabner and smacked the puck away without taking a penalty.
Late in the first period, the Penguins were clinging to a 1-0 lead. But Brooks Orpik got whistled for a cross-checking penalty. Then, he was given an extra two minutes, giving the Islanders four minutes on the power play.
Michael Grabner actually beat Fleury early in the power play, but the shot from the slot panged off the post. Fleury made sure to thank the post, but he didn’t need any more luck for the rest of the penalty kill.
The Penguins defense absolutely stymied the Islanders power play, even with Orpik – one of the team’s better penalty killers – in the box. Pittsburgh spent a solid amount of time in the offensive zone.
The kill allowed the Penguins to keep the lead heading into intermission, and they built on that lead in the second period, giving the team a two-goal cushion so they could absorb the Islanders’ furious late-game rally.
(AP) - Chris Kunitz scored the only goal in the shootout and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Islanders 4-3 on Friday night to avenge a record-setting, fight-filled loss.
The Penguins seemed to have things well in hand until Travis Hamonic got the Islanders even at 3 with just 35 seconds left in regulation with a shot from the left point that got past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after New York pulled goalie Al Montoya for an extra skater.
The Islanders had nearly tied it with 1:38 left, but Matt Moulson's goal was disallowed because John Tavares was in the crease.
Mark Letestu had snapped a 2-2 tie with 7:39 left, and Mike Rupp added a goal and assist for the Penguins. Fleury turned aside all three Islanders shooters before Kunitz won it on the final attempt.
- The Penguins have clinched home-ice advantage in the opening round of Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth straight season.
- With the Penguins’ 23rd road win, Pittsburgh broke the franchise record for most points on the road in a single season. This year’s 52 road points broke the 1992-93 record of 51. On Sunday at Atlanta, the Penguins can tie the franchise record for most road victories (24), which was also set in 92-93.
- The Penguins have a chance to make some more history going into the final game of the season. The Penguins’ penalty kill ranks No. 1 in the league with an 86.5 percent success rate. Pittsburgh has never finished first in that statistical category, but they hold a 0.6 percent advantage over Los Angeles heading into the last game.
- The Penguins finished with a winning record against the Islanders (4-1-1) for the fourth straight year, and the fifth time in the six seasons since the lockout. Pittsburgh has a 27-9-6 record against the Islanders since the 2005-06 season.
- James Neal left the game early in the second period after colliding with an Islander on the boards. After the game, head coach Dan Bylsma said Neal is day-to-day and didn’t return as a precautionary measure.
- Mike Rupp scored a goal and led the team with three shots through the first period, but he only had 0:59 of ice time. So when Neal left the game, Bylsma bumped Rupp up to first line with Mark Letestu and Alex Kovalev. Rupp then set up Letestu for the go-ahead goal in the third period with a centering pass. He also provided a crucial screen on Zbynek Michalek’s goal in the second period.
#1. Mark Letestu
Center - 10
#2. Blake Comeau
Right Wing - 57
#3. Mike Rupp
Forward - 17
1 goal, 1 assist
Author: Tony Jovenitti