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Islanders stars step up to help keep series competitive

| Sunday, May 5, 2013, 5:54 p.m.
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The Islanders' Kyle Okposo attempts to beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during the first period Sunday, May 5, 2013, in Uniondale, N.Y.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders have authored an unmistakably clear message to the Penguins.

The Eastern Conference quarterfinal series will not be a coronation.

“It takes four to win the series,” coach Jack Capuano said after the Islanders fell behind the Penguins two games to one in the best-of-seven series by dropping a 5-4 overtime decision Sunday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum. “The sun is going to come up tomorrow.”

Despite the loss, the Islanders stressed confidence, pointing to the fact that they outshot the Penguins, 36-25, and that they scored two goals in the third period to force overtime.

“We played (well). We played a good game,” Islanders center John Tavares said.

Tavares scored his first goal of the series to tie the score, 4-4.

“We need to regroup and know that we're playing some good hockey,” he added. “We're creating opportunities and believe in ourselves.”

That belief in each other has been sustained by the play of their stars. Along with Tavares, Kyle Okposo finished Game 3 with two points (a goal and an assist), and Matt Moulson scored a goal. Okposo and Moulson have three points (two goals and an assist) each in the three games. Tavares has tallied two points.

“Your best players are going to be your best players for us to have a chance,” Capuano said.

Whereas Tavares and Moulson are known commodities, Okposo is bit of a wild card. The seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft has had a stilted career. He suffered a concussion following a hit from then-Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf in a 2009 preseason game. More recently, he missed 44 games in the 2010-11 season after tearing his labrum in training camp.

“I remember my first year Kyle was really playing well,” Tavares said. “Obviously, the shoulder injury was really tough for him at that point. He was really a dominant player then and, obviously, (it took) a little longer than he wanted to get a lot of things back. But he did some good things towards the end of last season and same with this year toward the end of the season. You can just see he's taken it to another level.

“(Okposo is) one of our leaders and has a great skill set. We need him going like that.”

Along with the statistical production, Okposo has played a mean-edged game when matched up against Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.

The Islanders right winger was credited with two hits and consistently was able to win battles along the boards and carry the puck into the offensive zone.

“Especially the last two months and a half of the year, he's playing a lot more physical. He's playing, obviously, a lot more poised and confident with the puck. He's playing (the way he did) at the end of the year last year,” Capuano said. “He's been a big reason for our success down the stretch, and his play has continued to be that way.”

Denis Gorman is a freelance writer.

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