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Pens waste opportunity in loss to Islanders

| Tuesday, March 25, 2008

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Losses this late in a season always hurt.

The New York Islanders' 4-1 victory Monday at Nassau Coliseum rendered the Penguins more deflated than any first-place team should feel.

Then again, how many division-leading clubs blow an opportunity like the one the Penguins wasted and don't ultimately regret it?

"I'm really, really disappointed," coach Michel Therrien said after his team failed to clinch a playoff spot. "I'm speechless about their effort and speechless about their concentration and their will to win this game.

"It's unacceptable. Excuses are for losers."

The Penguins, 43-26-7 with 93 points, have no time to sulk. Another Atlantic Division showdown against New Jersey will provide a chance to shake off what was a thoroughly discouraging series of events last night.

Their loss to the bleary, battered and basement-dwelling Islanders meant more than just a missed shot to secure a playoff berth.

The Penguins also did not take advantage of an opportunity to move four points ahead of the Devils, who will control their own destiny within the division if victorious in regulation tonight.

Additionally, the Penguins lost ground to Montreal in the chase for home-ice advantage through the Eastern Conference portion of the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadiens held off Ottawa, 7-5, last night to move three points ahead of the Penguins, who have played one fewer game.

"It was a huge game," left wing Jarkko Ruutu said after his three-contest goal streak ended against the Islanders. "And we weren't very good. That's probably the best way to describe it."

The Islanders entered yesterday with no playoff hopes, last in the Atlantic, coming off a 4-1 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday and without starting goaltender Rick DiPietro and several other regulars due to an injury dilemma that trumped the one facing the Penguins.

No matter, they reminded the Penguins that every game among a season-ending stretch against division foes will require maximum effort and well-rounded execution.

"They outworked us, and we can't let that happen," defenseman Hal Gill said. "We were right with them in the second period, but then we kind of waited around. We have to be sharper and get it done right away rather than just wait around."

New York right wing Richard Park set the tone with a shorthanded goal - a slap-shot past goaltender Ty Conklin at 3:22 of the first period - to put the Islanders ahead, 1-0.

It was the second consecutive game in which the Penguins have surrendered a shorthanded tally. They are among the league leaders in that category at 10.

Right wing Petr Sykora pulled the Penguins even, 1-1, just 36 seconds after Park's goal. Sykora tallied his 28th at 3:58.

The final 40 minutes belonged to the Islanders, however.

New York captain Bill Guerin scored his 23rd and assisted on left wing Sean Bergenheim's 10th, a power-play tally, in the second period. Right wing Trent Hunter erased any doubt of the outcome with his 12th goal in the third period.

"We were kind of OK in the first period, but after that ... work ethic was not there," Therrien said. "It's pretty simple. That's why they won."

New York goaltender Wade Dubielewicz, playing because DiPietro is out for the season with a hip injury, stopped 28 of 29 shots.

Conklin, starting for only the fifth time in 12 games, turned aside 32 shots. He is 1-4-0 with a .877 save percentage since making a career-best 50 saves in a win against the Islanders here Feb. 26.

He was 17-4-5 with a .931 save percentage after that game.

"Certainly I don't think I've played my best the past two or three weeks," Conklin said. "I'm not going to make excuses. The job is the same whether you play every day or every second and third day."

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