Anders Lee deflected a Thomas Hickey shot with just 26.6 seconds left in regulation to help the New York Islanders upset the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 at the Barclays Center Wednesday night. The Islanders led 3-0 after 40 minutes but saw the defending Stanley Cup champions tally three times in the third period to tie the game before Lee’s game-winner gave the Isles a thrilling victory.
“This win is big but we can’t give up a three-goal lead in the third period,” forward Jason Chimera said. “Anders goal was huge for us and we got two points and we need them for sure.”
The Islanders seemed in control of the game with a 3-0 lead after two periods before a furious comeback by the Penguins evened the score at 3-3 with 6:52 left in the regulation time.
Conor Sheary got the Penguins going just 32 seconds into the final stanza and suddenly a nervous hush fell over the announced crowd of 12,129 who had seen their team blow too many late leads already this season.
Defenseman Justin Schultz was allowed to skate deep into the Isles’ zone unopposed and he beat Isles goalie Thomas Greiss at 10:40 to make this a one-goal game.
Some sloppy play by the Islanders in their own zone led to Evgeni Malkin’s tying goal at 13:08 and the home team’s seemingly comfortable lead had been completely erased.
“They had us on our heels,” Chimera admitted. “They started to forecheck and we stopped doing things right. Guys got behind us. They tend to cheat a little when they get behind and it looks like they’re coming at you a million miles-per-hour. We’ve got to be aware of that and you can’t let guys get behind you.”
The Islanders did settle down after the game was tied and started to play better hockey. It paid off in the final minute with Lee’s game-winner.
“We just had to grind it out and we did,” Lee said. “We’ve faced this kind of stuff enough this year and we’re sick of it. Tonight we were able to pull through on it.”
Nikolay Kulemin added an empty-net tally three seconds later to clinch a 5-3 win for the Islanders.
“At the end of the day it’s a good team win,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. “It’s a process. You keep doing the right things and it’s all going to average itself out at some point during the year. I’m proud of the effort that we put in.”
The Isles held a 1-0 lead after a fairly even first period when Johnny Boychuk’s blast from the top of the circle beat Matt Murray at 19:47. It was a big boost for an Isles team that has given up several crucial goals in the final minute of a period to be on the positive side of a last minute score.
That momentum carried over into the second period when Chimera deflected home a hard shot by Scott Mayfield at 2:10 to make it 2-0 Islanders.
Casey Cizikas gave the Isles a 3-0 lead with 3:39 left in the middle stanza when he put home a rebound from just outside the left post for his third goal of the season.
The win was the second straight for the Islanders who are trying to climb back into contention in the Metropolitan Division after a disappointing start to the season.
“It was more relief than elation,” Hickey said. “Maybe earlier in the year, we lost that game in regulation if things are going like that. We just kept battling and it was a hug goal by Anders [Lee].”
The Islanders return to action Thursday night when they travel to Washington to face the Capitals.
Scott Mayfield, Casey Cizikas and Johnny Boychuk each had two points for the Islanders. Boychuk and Calvin de Haan also finished the game with a plus-three rating.
The Islanders went 0-for-4 on the power play including a two minute 5-on-3 advantage in the second period. They did generate several quality chances with the extra attacker which was encouraging.
The Penguins were 0-for-3 on the power play.