BROOKLYN, New York - These aren't the same Penguins as a year ago.
Last season, the Penguins suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders. And in the opening two periods Thursday night at Barclays Center, it felt like a continuation of that series.
The Islanders were stingy defensively. There was little to no room for the Penguins to maneuver through the neutral zone and offensive zone. The goaltender, this time around Semyon Varlamov, robbed Pittsburgh on several high-quality scoring chances. The Islanders' offense was opportunistic - scoring three goals on 11 shots, including a shorthanded tally. And two of those goals were scored by Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, both players haunted the Penguins last spring.
Thus, New York held a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes. And it felt like Game 5 of the playoffs.
But this isn't last year. And these aren't the same Penguins.
Pittsburgh retooled its roster in the offseason to try and fix those issues from the playoffs. And in the first major test, the Penguins passed.
Pittsburgh's fate changed in a matter of seven minutes, 10 seconds. That was how long it took for the Penguins to rally for three goals in the third period to tie the game, 3-3, before winning, 4-3, in overtime.
"I give our players a lot of credit," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Their resilience, their stick-to-it-ivness to keep fighting and keep pushing in that third period is an indication of the kind of character we have in our room."
But even though the Penguins found themselves in a precarious circumstance, the group never stop believing they could win the game.
"So far we've done a pretty good job of battling back," said Rust, who scored two goals in the game, including the overtime winner. "There is that belief in here."
It started with a shuffling of the deck. Sullivan switched his line combinations entering the third period. He found immediate magic in the trio of Jared McCann, Evgeni Malkin and Rust The trio combined for four goals and seven points.
"It was a good line for us," Sullivan said. "They were dynamic in the third (period)."
What an incredible flip of the script. The Penguins were facing one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league, a team that had won 10-straight games coming into the contest. Oh, and a 3-0 deficit to overtime and just 20 minutes with which to work.
But for the second game in a row (Boston, Monday), the Penguins' offense exploded in a single period to erase a 3-0 score. It all began with McCann's goal 98 seconds into the third period.
"Our goal was to come out hard on the first shift in the third and try to slowly get one," Rust said. "To get that quick one was huge and we just built off of that."
The turning point in the game though came when goaltender Matt Murray, while laying facedown on the ice, lifted his left leg up to make a scorpion pad save on Anthony Beauvillier. Right after the save, the Penguins notched their second goal of the game when Rust, who now has a five-game scoring streak (4G-2A), went bar down.
"That save (Murray) made changes the outcome of the game," Sullivan said. "That is the timely save that we need to win games."
The Penguins needed this win. Not only for the two points in the standings, but psychologically. The club has been so close in some losses, and in many of those losses the Penguins' deserved a better result (see: Boston, Tampa Bay, Edmonton).
And the Penguins needed to exorcise some demons against the Islanders. This certainly doesn't erase what happened last year. But it does remove a burden on the Penguins' minds. Plus, it reinforces to Pittsburgh once again that if it plays the right way, the Penguins can beat any team in the NHL.
"We understood it wasn't over," Malkin said. "We understand a game is 60 minutes. We're professionals in here. Coach told us it's not over, let's go guys.
"You need to fight every shift. Twenty minutes is a long time. It's a great win."