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Penguins ruin Tavares' debut with Islanders

| Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Dear John. It'll only get better from here. Best, Sid.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and New York Islanders franchise prospect John Tavares each posted goal-and-assist games, but Crosby's club is where Tavares can only hope to take his — and the grit of a champion is what separated the Penguins and Islanders on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.

Third-period rally goals by defenseman Mark Eaton and Ruslan Fedotenko earned the Penguins one point, and they snagged another one in the shootout with consecutive scores by defenseman Kris Letang and Crosby to down the Islanders, 4-3.

"It's not often you can play just 20 good minutes and win the game," Eaton said. "We were fortunate to get the win."

The Penguins (2-0-0) were fortunate in 2005 when they won a draft lottery and the option of selecting Crosby, then known as "The Next One," with the first overall pick.

He's played 292 games since and recorded his 400th point last night — becoming the sixth fastest player to reach that plateau. The only other players to beat him to it: All-time points leader Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky (197 games); former Penguins great Mario Lemieux (240); Peter Stastny (247); Eric Lindros (277); and past Islanders legend Mike Bossy (283).

Bossy was on-hand last night to witness the start of Tavares' career. The most hyped prospect to enter the National Hockey League since Crosby, Tavares, drafted No.1 overall in June, was greeted enthusiastically by a sellout crowd during pregame introductions.

Like Crosby was then by Penguins ownership, Tavares is viewed by Islanders brass as the linchpin in their efforts to land a new arena and save the franchise.

If impressing Crosby is any indication, Tavares might just have that in him.

"I thought he played well. It's going to get easier and easier," Crosby said. "I played against him a bit and he looked pretty responsible out there. He's got a nose for the net. He looked strong and he's only going to get better."

The Islanders would be thrilled if Tavares' first four years matched those by Crosby. Then again, who wouldn't?

At 22, Crosby has already won a scoring title, MVP, topped 100 points twice, appeared in two Stanley Cup Final series and captained a team to the Cup.

However, for most of two periods last night, the Penguins didn't resemble the team that won two Games 7s last postseason on the way to a championship.

Crosby's second goal on the season put them ahead, 1-0, at 8:50 of the opening period with a backhand-to-forehand shot past Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson. Crosby didn't score his second goal last season until the Penguins' eighth game.

The Islanders pulled even, 1-1, on defenseman Mark Streit's power-play goal at 12:40. With Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Jay McKee each serving two-minute penalties, Streit blasted a shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to convert New York's 5-on-3 advantage.

The Islanders converted another power play into a go-ahead goal at 7:09 of the second period. Tavares, projected by most scouts as a dominant goal-scorer at this level, jumped on a loose puck near Fleury and lifted a backhand shot past him for his historic tally.

After killing each of the New York Rangers' four power plays in their season-opening win on Friday at Mellon Arena, the Penguins allowed the Islanders to score twice on six advantage chances last night.

"We were in their face for most of the game, I think," Tavares said. "We really played our style."

Minutes after Tavares' tally, Fleury denied him on a breakaway to keep the Penguins within a goal.

That save proved pivotal when Eaton tied the score, 2-2, at 7:19 of the third period. Eaton, who scored four goals during the 2009 postseason, knuckled a shot past Roloson to make good on a faceoff win by Crosby, who went 17-for-26 in the circle.

Still, the Islanders refused to wilt — just as Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma predicted they wouldn't before the game.

Winger Trent Hunter pushed New York into another lead only 17 seconds after Eaton's goal, beating Fleury at 7:36 for a 3-2 advantage.

However, the Penguins forced an overtime period at 16:11 thanks to a tying goal from Fedotenko, who did not finish the first period after a nasty collision with Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt.

"We stuck to our game," Crosby said. "We felt like we were controlling the play pretty well."

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