PITTSBURGH – New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz insists his team isn’t keeping track of its torrid start, even as the weeks pass and the victories pile up.
Probably time to start.
Brock Nelson’s second goal of the game 2:55 into overtime capped another frantic comeback to lift the Islanders to a 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night to extend their points streak to 15 games, tied for the longest in franchise history.
“Our team would have no clue if we won 10 in a row or five in a row,” Trotz said. “We would just know we haven't lost in a while. That's really been our mentality.”
One that seems to suit New York just fine. Ahead. Behind. It doesn’t matter. The Islanders are playing with a tenacity that’s kept them unbeaten in regulation since Oct. 11. The only blemish over the last five-plus weeks came on Nov. 7 against Pittsburgh, when the Penguins scrambled back from three goals down to stun New York in overtime.
The Islanders returned the favor when goals by Josh Bailey and Ryan Pulock in the final 4:29 of regulation forced overtime. Nelson won it when he fired a shot at Matt Murray that trickled to the goaltender’s right. Nelson tapped the rebound into the open net for his sixth goal of the season.
“It's fun when you're winning games,” Nelson said. “So right now, we're showing up, working hard and believing in each other. Off that, you can build confidence in a game."
Anthony Beauvillier added his seventh for the Islanders, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 27 shots as New York equaled a points streak achieved three other times, the last by the 1981-82 club that put together a 15-0-0 stretch on its way to a third straight Stanley Cup. The Islanders will look to make history when they host the Penguins on Thursday on the back end of a home-and-home.
It’s an attempt that looked in serious jeopardy trailing by two goals with less than five minutes to play. Yet just as they did on Saturday night in Philadelphia – when they erased a three-goal third period deficit to survive in a shootout – the Islanders simply would not go away.
Bailey’s goal got New York back within one. Pulock tied it when he drilled a slap shot from just inside the blue line with 1:32 remaining after the Islanders pulled Varlamov for an extra skater. Nelson’s tap helped New York become the first team ever to win consecutive games in which they trailed by multiple goals with less than seven minutes left in regulation.
“Lots of character, lots of leadership in this room,” Beauvillier said. “We don't want to keep going down every game. Obviously, we want to play with the lead, but one of those games where those points are going to count at the end of the year."
Brandon Tanev scored twice for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel had a goal and an assist and Bryan Rust also scored for the Penguins. Murray finished with 37 saves but Pittsburgh lost for the third time in nine tries this season when leading after two periods.
“It’s same game like we played in Brooklyn,” said Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who had two assists. “They lead 3-0 and we won in OT. It’s same game exactly. We have to understand we can’t do mistakes like the last 10 minutes, and 6 on 5. It’s hard to say, but we played a good game I think except the last 10 minutes.”
The Penguins created traffic around Varlamov all night, and Guentzel made it 4-2 early in the third period when he sprinted down the middle of the New York zone, collected a lead pass from Alex Galchenyuk and flicked the puck by Varlamov’s right pad. New York’s first regulation loss since the second week of the season seemed imminent.
Rust took a tripping penalty with 6:23 to go and Bailey took advantage of Pittsburgh’s exhausted penalty killers, beating Murray just after the penalty expired to give the Islanders a jolt that carried them the rest of the way.
“It's a tough time of a game to take a penalty,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “The third goal was the killer.”
NOTES: Nelson left briefly in the first period to be evaluated after taking a slap shot off the helmet. The puck hit Nelson’s helmet with such force a portion of it shattered. ... Penguins C Nick Bjugstad missed his second straight game due to a lower-body injury that coach Mike Sullivan said will keep him out “longer-term.” ... Pittsburgh handed out bobbleheads as tribute to general manager Jim Rutherford, who was inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. ... The Islanders scratched D Noah Dobson and F Ross Johnston. ... Pittsburgh scratched D Chad Ruhwedel and D Kris Letang, who hasn’t played since Nov. 4 with a lower-body injury. ... The Islanders went 0 for 3 on the power play. The Penguins have killed 23 straight penalties. ... Pittsburgh went 2 for 4 with the man advantage.
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