Penguins rally, then hold off Islanders for wild victory on the road

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 2:09 p.m.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff figured he owed his teammates at least one big save in the third period Thursday night.

After all, they helped him overcome early sloppiness by scoring four unanswered goals. So when Frans Nielsen had a point-blank attempt during a 5-on-3 New York Islanders power play in a one-goal game, Zatkoff had one thing on his mind: Stop that puck.

Zatkoff made the save, and the Penguins survived another wild game with the Islanders, holding on for a 6-4 victory at Nassau Coliseum.

Zatkoff finished with 30 saves while improving to 8-0-1 in his past nine starts. His biggest stop Thursday came when he went post to post to prevent Nielsen from scoring with 6:38 left.

“I told the guys I owed them that one after I let that fourth one in,” Zatkoff said. “I knew after that I was going to have to make big saves.”

Zatkoff was locked in on Nielsen but also anticipated a tip-in. So he braced himself when John Tavares swooped in, but the shot missed the net.

“At that point it's a desperation save,” Zatkoff said. “You see the puck, but at that point you're trying to fill the bottom half of the net and make the save and hopefully your teammates can clear the rebound, and that's what happened.”

With 1:15 remaining, Zatkoff denied Tavares to secure the win.

“That was tricky because he kind of pulled it around the (defenseman) and shot it through his legs,” Zatkoff said. “I think our ‘D' got just enough of it, and to be honest with you, I didn't pick it up until it was a foot in front in me, but luckily I was pretty square and it hit me in the chest.”

Zatkoff's late-game dramatics were made necessary after the Penguins squandered a pair of one-goal leads. They took a 4-2 lead into the second intermission after Kris Letang scored a power-play goal with 2:16 left, but Zatkoff was beaten by a Josh Bailey breakaway 3:10 into the third.

The Penguins regained a two-goal cushion about three minutes later when Evgeni Malkin finished off a cross-ice pass from James Neal for his 14th goal. But nearly five minutes later Kyle Okposo jammed in a shot off a scramble in front to make it a one-goal game again.

“He's probably not real happy with letting in the four goals,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “But like our team, he hung in there.”

The Penguins beat the Islanders for the second time this season on Long Island and did so in similar fashion: by rallying from a two-goal deficit. The only difference between Thursday and the Dec. 3 victory was that the Penguins did not need overtime or a Sidney Crosby game-winner through two defensemen.

“They play really aggressive and when they execute that well, they generate chances,” Crosby said. “They make it tough.”

Before the wild final 20 minutes, the Penguins received goals from Chris Kunitz and Crosby in the first period and defensemen Olli Maatta and Letang in the second.

Even with Pittsburgh's defense corps accounting for two goals and Malkin scoring his fifth goal in seven games, Crosby left his mark.

He had a goal and two assists, marking his seventh game with at least three points. Kunitz also had a goal and two assists as the Penguins won for the seventh time in nine games (7-1-1) and 15th time in 19 contests (15-3-1).

The Penguins also improved to 13-4-2 in their past 19 trips to Long Island.

Kunitz and Crosby scored nearly two minutes apart midway through the first period. That came after goals by Michael Grabner and Brock Nelson in the opening 8 12 minutes, when the Islanders controlled most of the play.

The Penguins were sloppy in their own end, and it proved costly about 90 seconds into the game as Grabner converted an errant clearing attempt by Letang into his eighth goal, beating Zatkoff with a wrist shot from the lower edge of the right faceoff circle. Nelson later converted an odd-man rush off a feed from Grabner over Zatkoff's glove.

But the Penguins' comeback began a little over a minute later with some good passing.

Crosby made a nice back-handed pass to Kunitz for a one-timer with 10:28 remaining. Nearly two minutes later, the duo paired up again when Kunitz gained possession after a dump-in by Matt Niskanen and found Crosby, who buried the wraparound.

Larry Fleisher is a freelance writer.

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