The New York Islanders got a third-period goal from Anders Lee to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in an important division game, but lost starting goalie Jaroslav Halak to a lower-body injury late in the contest. Halak’s long-term status is still unknown as the Islanders prepare for Wednesday night’s match-up in Toronto.
The win was an important one for the Islanders. The victory put them five points ahead of the Penguins while the Islanders still have two games in hand. The Isles were also able to keep pace with the second-place Rangers who also won on Tuesday night. The Isles are just three points behind the Rangers but the Isles have three more games remaining on their schedule.
The game started out fairly wide open and both teams had quality scoring chances early. The Islanders took the lead on a power-play goal by captain John Tavares at the 8:04 mark of the opening stanza. Some quick cross-ice passes set up Tavares at the top of the circle and he beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give the home team the early lead.
The game got physical at times as the officials more or less let the players play. Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic tangled with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin late in the first period and both players were given 2:00 for roughing.
“When you have a physical contest like that early on, it really gets everybody motivated,” Hamonic said after the game. “We’ve had a pretty good run with these guys ever since we played them in the playoffs (in 2013). It’s certainly developed into a really good rivalry.”
The Penguins took advantage of the open ice while the teams were skating 4-on-4 and evened the score at 13:13 of the first period. Sidney Crosby made a pinpoint pass to defenseman Kris Letang who beat Halak with a high shot to the glove side that went in just below the crossbar.
The Penguins took control of the game in the final minutes of the first period, but Halak made some clutch saves to keep the contest tied at 1-1.
The game remained even until Lee stepped up and deflected home a shot from the point by Nick Leddy at the 8:55 mark of the final period. It was a power-play goal. There was controversy surrounding the play as Lee and Letang were battling in front of the net for position before the score. Letang when down to the ice just as the shot was taken and then slashed at Lee’s ankles while he was prone on the ice. The goal stood and the Isles had the lead with 11:05 remaining in the game.
“I was just trying to be net front and there was a battle with the defense to get over there,” Lee said. “I was just trying to gain position and the rest of the guys did their job up top and that was a great shot.”
Isles coach Jack Capuano was pleased with Lee’s efforts in front of the opposing net. “He’s fearless. He sacrifices. Other guys need to do it. He stands there when guys with big shots are firing.”
Special teams played a big role in the victory. The Islanders finished the game 2-of-4 with the extra attacker while Pittsburgh was 0-for-3.
The Islanders held on for the win as their goalies made 12 saves in the final period. Halak remained in the game until he went down with the lower-body injury after making a save with just 4:22 left in regulation time. Backup Thomas Greiss had to come in cold and preserve the victory. To make things tougher, the Isles were shorthanded just a few seconds after Greiss entered the game when Kyle Okposo was called for high sticking. Greiss was able to step up and preserve the win.
“We’re really confident in all three of our goalies,” Hamonic said. “I didn’t really skip a beat seeing Greiss go in there cold. I trust him a lot back there. Jaro [Halak] battled all game and made some great saves and held us in early in the first period. Our lineup’s pretty fluid and it’s no different at the goalie position.”
The Islanders return to action Wednesday night when they travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at 7:00 PM ET.
Frans Nielsen and Nick Leddy assisted on both Islanders goals in this game.
Official attendance was 14,724.
The Islanders were again without defenseman Calvin de Haan who has now missed seven of the last nine games.