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May 4, 2013

Islanders rally past Penguins to even series

PITTSBURGH — Kyle Okposo’s first career playoff goal with 7:37 remaining lifted the New York Islanders to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night, evening their playoffs series at one game each.

Matt Moulson, Colin McDonald and Matt Martin also scored for the Islanders, who spoiled Sidney Crosby’s comeback from a broken jaw by rallying from an early two-goal deficit.

Crosby scored twice in the game’s first eight minutes as the Penguins raced to a quick 3-1 lead. But they couldn’t hold it as the Islanders bounced back from a lifeless performance in Game 1.

Evgeni Nabokov overcame a sluggish start to stop 30 shots as the Islanders won their first playoff game in more than six years.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 38 saves for Pittsburgh, which allowed the speedy Islanders to effectively counterpunch all night.

Game 3 is Sunday in New York.

It wasn’t exactly the triumphant return the Penguins expected after doctors cleared Crosby to play after missing more than a month. Pittsburgh crushed the Islanders 5-0 in the opener Wednesday, and Crosby’s addition to the lineup figured to make the task for the eighth-seeded Islanders more daunting.

Instead, it only seemed to fire up New York.

Though the Penguins raced to a quick lead behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the young Islanders kept attacking. The result was the franchise’s first playoff victory since April 14, 2007. Coach Jack Capuano told his players after the debacle in the opener all it took was a bounce here or there to get back in it.

The bounce came in the third period, when Okposo fired a shot wide of the net that caromed back to the crease, then rolled off Fleury and across the goal line.

The Penguins couldn’t muster much in return, and the Islanders spilled over the boards after toppling the Eastern Conference’s top seed as a solemn crowd trudged to the exit.

The end played in stark contrast to the beginning, when the building erupted the moment Crosby skated onto the ice before pregame introductions. The place only grew louder when he hopped over the boards for the first time in over a month.

It helped that Malkin had already staked Pittsburgh to a 1-0 lead 43 seconds into the game when he poked in his own rebound over a sprawled Nabokov.

Crosby, who has shown a flair for the dramatic in his comebacks from lengthy layoffs, did not provide any magic on his first shift.

Instead, he waited for his second.

Standing all alone on the post, Crosby tapped in a simple pass from Jarome Iginla to make it 2-0 before the game was four minutes old. The Islanders cut the lead in half when Matt Moulson chipped a power-play goal past Fleury 7:04 into the period, but the momentum lasted all of 18 seconds.

That’s how long it took for the Penguins to win the next faceoff and have Crosby skate behind the net, then roof a shot by Nabokov from just above the goal line.

Yet the Islanders, unlike in Game 1, did not pack it in. Even as the Penguins were scoring, New York continued to generate quality opportunities of its own.

In the second period, those opportunities turned into goals.

McDonald pulled the Islanders within one 5:12 when he stuffed a backhand underneath Fleury’s pads from a bad angle. Martin tied it just past the game’s midway point when he collected a wayward shot off the end boards and slammed it by Fleury.

The surge seemed to unnerve the Penguins. Iginla drew a boarding penalty for attempting to retaliate after New York defenseman Brian Strait dumped Crosby, and Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen found himself fighting Okposo after Okposo took exception with a Niskanen check on Moulson.

Niskanen may have won the fight. but Moulson drew blood, a fitting symbol for what the Islanders were able to do while giving the Penguins a reality check.

NOTES: The Penguins scratched F James Neal, who left Game 1 with an injury in the second period and did not return. Neal did not skate with the team on Friday morning and it appears unlikely he will play Saturday ... Pittsburgh D Brooks Orpik missed his second straight game with a lower body injury. Orpik had played in 75 consecutive playoff games coming into the series.

 

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