PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN/AP) — Evgeni Malkin was just as surprised as everyone else outside of the Islanders’ bench when New York replaced goalie Evgeni Nabokov at the end of overtime.
Malkin knew exactly what he was going to do against Rick DiPietro in the shootout, and he allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to extend their recent mastery over the Islanders.
Malkin’s shootout goal capped a rally from a two-goal deficit in the third period and Pittsburgh won its fifth consecutive game, 3-2 over the Islanders on Thursday night.
“It was a surprise for me and the whole team,” Malkin said of the Islanders swapping out goalies for the shootout after Nabokov had stopped 30 of 32 shots. “Nabokov played a great game.
“When I saw DiPietro, I knew I would do my good move. It was a surprise, he fell down. It was a lucky goal.”
Pittsburgh’s second shooter of the shootout, Malkin walked in, made multiple dekes in close while avoiding a pole check and slid the puck under a sprawling DiPietro with his backhand.
Chris Kunitz and James Neal scored 2:46 apart early in the third period less than a minute after Matt Martin had given the Islanders a 2-0 lead.
Frans Nielsen had a first-period goal for New York, which has lost four in a row overall and hasn’t won in Pittsburgh in almost four years.
The Penguins have won 12 consecutive home games against the Islanders.
Nabokov said he sustained a minor lower-body injury in the first period that worsened as the game progressed. Heading into his team’s first shootout of the season, New York coach Jack Capuano had to turn to DiPietro, who hadn’t appeared in a game yet this season and whose previous appearance in Pittsburgh ended with him sustaining a broken cheekbone from a punch from Penguins backup goalie Brent Johnson in February.
DiPietro’s 19-10 record in shootouts coming in was one of the best in the league among active goalies, and his .732 save percentage was tied for ninth among active goalies who had appeared in at least 15 shootouts.
According to STATS LLC this was the fifth time since the NHL instituted the shootout in 2005 that a goaltender came into the game for the shootout after having not played during regulation or overtime.
“I’m always ready,” said DiPietro, “That’s what they pay me to do, right?”
DiPietro stopped Kris Letang to open the shootout, and Neal would miss the net on a shot after Malkin’s goal. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Nielsen and John Tavares, and P.A. Parenteau missed the net to end the game.
“(DiPietro) was great and actually almost had Malkin’s there,” Capuano said. “But obviously, if you don’t score in the shootout you’re not going to win.”
Malkin improved to 2-for-2 this season in shootouts despite entering the campaign 8-for-30 lifetime. He had struggled at times so much that the Penguins went through stretches where they rarely used him despite his status as one of the game’s most gifted scorers and stickhandlers.
“He’s got great moves in practice that he shows off,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “Tonight, that was a spectacular move. He had to change direction when DiPietro made the poke check. … He made an awesome move. I think it’s him having a little more swagger, trying some of the moves he does have. He’s done it a couple times this year. Tonight was just outstanding.”
The Islanders led 1-0 after two, and Martin extended their lead to 2-0 just 45 seconds into the third for his first goal since March 22.
“I think it’s mandatory if you have a 2-0 lead in the third period,” said Martin, “that you have to come out with a win.”
Especially against Pittsburgh, which hadn’t won a game it trailed after two periods since April 3, 2010.
“You knew that they were going to come at some point in the third period,” Nabokov said of the Penguins. “Either with 10 minutes to go, five minutes to go or right away.”
Try 44 seconds later, when Kunitz began the comeback with his third of the season, off a pass from by Pascal Dupuis.
Neal tied it 2:46 after that while on the power play, finishing a pretty sequence of passes from Malkin to Kunitz to Neal. The goal was Neal’s ninth, tying him with Toronto’s Phil Kessel for the league lead.
“We didn’t feel like the game was getting away from us being down one,” said Kunitz, “but as soon as they scored that second one, that panic button hit a little more and we picked up the tempo.”