Lee’s goal with 26.6 seconds left lifts Islanders
NEW YORK -- New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk grinned as he watched a throng of reporters enter the locker room Wednesday night.
“You guys thought we were going to lose that game,” Boychuk said.
If so, the writers weren’t alone. But New York stunningly flipped the third period script it has followed this season by scoring twice in the final 30 seconds to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 in front of an energized crowd at Barclays Center.
The Islanders led 3-0 after two periods before the Penguins tied the game with a trio of goals in the first 13-plus minutes of the third. The flurry seemed to set up New York -- which has surrendered the tying or go-ahead goal in the final three minutes of regulation in seven of its 14 losses this season -- for another agonizing defeat.
But Anders Lee, stationed in front of the net, redirected a shot by Thomas Hickey with 26.6 seconds remaining to give the Islanders the lead and Nikolay Kulemin scored an empty netter off the subsequent faceoff as New York (8-10-4) earned a badly needed victory.
“It’s huge,” Lee said. “We’ve faced enough adversity for a season, I think. We’ve been frustrated and it’s been a tough start. We dug ourselves a hole, but we dug ourselves out of one tonight.”
The win provided a particularly gratifying reward for the Islanders, who felt they played well on a three-game Western Conference road trip last week but went 1-2-0 with a pair of last-minute defeats.
The Los Angeles Kings scored three times in the final 2:57 of a 4-2 win on Nov. 23. Against the San Jose Sharks two days later, Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy tied the game with 57 seconds left in the third, but Sharks center Patrick Marleau scored 35 seconds later to hand New York a 2-1 loss.
”It’s a good team win,“ Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. ”Our guys have been practicing hard, they’ve been playing hard. That was a great west coast trip, we didn’t get the results that we wanted, that we should have had.
“You do the right things, you’re going to get rewarded. It’s going to average itself out at some point of the year.”
Boychuk scored in the final minute of the first period and Jason Chimera and Casey Cizikas scored in the second for the Islanders, who received 22 saves from Thomas Greiss over the first 40 minutes.
But the Penguins wasted no time beginning their comeback as Conor Sheary scored 32 seconds into the third. Justin Schultz made it 3-2 with 9:20 remaining and Evgeni Malkin tied the score with 6:52 left.
“Once we got one, you see in the third, we ended up getting a few,” said Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who assisted on the first and third goals.
The Islanders regained some momentum by recording three shots in the first minute following Malkin’s goal and then survived a brief Penguins flurry with about three minutes left.
The victory was the second straight for the Islanders -- their first winning streak since Oct. 21-23. The win moved New York out of last place in the NHL and into 28th, one point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche.
It was also the Islanders’ first win this season against an Eastern Conference team currently occupying a playoff spot. Overall, New York is just 2-7-3 against the East.
“We needed it, we absolutely did -- we needed it for our team, for our confidence,” Boychuk said. “That’s the Stanley Cup champions over there. We outplayed them for 45 minutes. For 15 minutes, they outplayed us.”
Greiss finished with 31 saves.
Matt Murray recorded 25 saves for the Penguins (13-7-3), who have lost six of 10 (4-5-1).
“We were real encouraged with how we battled back,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.
NOTES: The Islanders scratched D Adam Pelech (upper body), G Jaroslav Halak and C Alan Quine. The scratch was the second of the season for Halak. Third-string G Jean-Francois Berube, who has yet to appear in a game, served as the backup for the 13th time this year. ... Islanders C Ryan Strome returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last two games. D Dennis Seidenberg (broken jaw), who missed the last seven games, continues to work out with the team but isn’t expected to return until at least this weekend. ... The Penguins scratched D Steve Oleksy, LW Tom Sestito and C Scott Wilson. ... Penguins RW Patric Hornqvist started in his return after a six-game absence because of a concussion. LW Chris Kunitz (lower body) missed his fifth straight game.