PITTSBURGH (AP) – Sidney Crosby scored with 1:16 remaining to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night.
Crosby’s 12th goal of the season was also the 250th of his career, and the Penguins’ captain also had an assist. Chris Kunitz had two goals and an assist, Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists, and James Neal added two assists. Malkin’s goal ending his career-high 15-game scoring drought.
Jeff Zatkoff, playing for the first time since Nov. 2, stopped 32 shots in his fourth NHL start.
Thomas Vanek scored twice for the Islanders in his first game after missing five with an upper-body injury. Vanek has three goals and two assists with New York since being acquired from Buffalo in October, and seven goals and seven assists in 20 games overall this season. Colin McDonald also got his second of the season for the Islanders.
Kevin Poulin made 30 saves for the Islanders. He started his sixth straight game in place of injured starter Evgeni Nabokov, who is out with a groin injury.
With less than 90 seconds left, Kunitz got the puck to Pascal Dupuis behind the net, and he centered it to Crosby, who got the tiebreaker for the Penguins.
The Penguins picked up their third straight victory and fourth win in five games to rebound from a three-game skid. Pittsburgh won its third straight at home, winning for the fifth time in six games at Consol Energy Center, a place where the Penguins are 10-3 while having allowed just 24 goals.
Pittsburgh, tops in the Metropolitan Division, thumped rival Washington 4-0 on Wednesday night and gained a measure of revenge from a heartbreaking loss to the Islanders four weeks earlier. However, it wasn’t easy for the Penguins, who weren’t nearly as disciplined defensively on Friday.
The Islanders, tied for last in the Metropolitan Division entering Friday, lost for the seventh time in nine games, but the matchup with the division-leading Penguins brought out the best in New York, as it has done recently.
Pittsburgh, which survived a six-game playoff series against the underdog Islanders last season, held third-period leads of 2-1 and 3-2 four weeks ago before New York rallied, scoring three times in the final 7:14 for a 4-3 victory. The Islanders nearly did it again, coming back from early deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 before Crosby’s heroics.
Malkin has been productive with 14 assists in 15 games – 12 helpers coming in nine November games, but had no goals to show for it. He previously scored Oct. 17 during a 4-1 win at Philadelphia and it showed as emotion poured from Malkin, who aggressively pumped his fist and slammed his stick against the end boards after beating Poulin midway through the second period.
New York committed three penalties in the first 7:42 of the game, and Kunitz made the Islanders pay, staking the Penguins to a 2-0 lead with two power-play goals in 7:55.
Crosby and Malkin’s slick tic-tac-toe passing sequence set up Kunitz’s first goal 4:04 into the game.
Malkin found Crosby at the point and the Penguins’ captain dished a quick back-door pass through the slot to the far post, where Kunitz one-timed the puck over Poulin’s right pad.
Kunitz scored his second less than four minutes later, blowing a slap shot past Poulin after taking a pass off the rush from Neal.
Kunitz thought he had the natural hat trick with 1:10 left in the first period, but a high-sticking call on Malkin before the puck went in negated the goal.
That allowed Vanek to trim the Penguins’ lead to a goal 1:46 into the second period. Vanek took a backhand corner feed from Kyle Okposo and ripped a one-timer behind Zatkoff from the faceoff dot, making it 2-1.
Malkin helped the Penguins regain the two-goal advantage less than 5 minutes later.
Malkin initially passed to an open Neal on the left wing but he dished it back to the Penguins’ superstar, who slid a shot underneath Poulin with a defender draped on his back.
Malkin’s goal gave the Penguins life as Pittsburgh buzzed the Islanders’ zone looking for more. The Islanders weathered the storm, tying the game a little more than 5 minutes later with two goals in 1½ minutes.
McDonald started the comeback, beating Zatkoff with a wrist shot to the blocker side off the rush. Vanek scored his second of the game soon after, finding a loose puck during a scrum in front after the Islanders capitalized on a Penguins turnover.
NOTES: The Penguins and Islanders meet in two weeks at the Nassau Coliseum. … Both teams are in action Saturday, Pittsburgh visiting Montreal, while the Islanders continue a three-game road swing at Philadelphia. … C Brock Nelson, LW Eric Boulton, and D Aaron Ness were scratched for the Islanders, while RW Matt D’Agostini and D Robert Bortuzzo sat for the Penguins.