PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The New York Islanders' up-and-down, fast-paced tempo always seem to bring out the worst defensively in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fortunately, for the Penguins, captain Sidney Crosby was there, helping his team prevent a second home collapse in four weeks against the upstart Islanders.
Crosby scored with 1:16 remaining on Friday to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory over the Islanders during a game that saw New York rally from a pair of two two-goal deficits for the second time in two games against Pittsburgh.
"We had the lead, so they started taking chances, and we kind of got sucked into playing that style of game," Crosby said. "Instead of managing the puck, we were taking chances and throwing the puck everywhere, and when you play that game, whoever scores the last goal is going to win."
That's exactly what happened and Crosby provided the late game-winner.
Crosby's 12th goal of the season was also the 250th of his career, and the Penguins' captain also had an assist. Chris Kunitz had two goals and an assist, Evgeni Malkin added a goal and two assists, and James Neal had two assists. Malkin's goal ended his career-high 15-game scoring drought.
Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, playing for the first time since Nov. 2, stopped 32 shots in his fourth NHL start.
"We had a lot of chances, but that wasn't our best game," Crosby said. "We probably could've put it away early, but they hung around."
Thomas Vanek scored twice for the Islanders in his first game after missing five with an upper-body injury. Vanek has three goals and two assists with New York since being acquired from Buffalo last month. Colin McDonald also got his second of the season for New York.
Kevin Poulin made 30 saves for the Islanders. He started his sixth straight game in place of injured starter Evgeni Nabokov, who is out with a groin injury.
The two teams combined for six goals through two periods, but things settled down in the third. With less than 90 seconds left, Kunitz got the puck to Pascal Dupuis behind the net, and he centred it to Crosby, who got the tiebreaker for the Penguins.
"It was kind of a patient third period from both teams, and there wasn't much going on," Crosby said. "A lot different from the first two periods."
The Penguins won their third straight and fourth win in five games to rebound from a three-game skid. Pittsburgh also won its third straight at home—and fifth time in six games at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins are 10-3 while having allowed just 24 goals.
Pittsburgh, tops in the Metropolitan Division, thumped rival Washington 4-0 on Wednesday night and gained a measure of revenge from a heartbreaking loss to the Islanders four weeks earlier. However, it wasn't easy for the Penguins, who weren't nearly as disciplined defensively on Friday.
The Islanders, tied for last in the Metropolitan Division entering Friday, lost for the seventh time in nine games, but the matchup with the division-leading Penguins brought out the best in New York, as it has done recently.
Pittsburgh, which survived a six-game playoff series against the underdog Islanders last season, held third-period leads of 2-1 and 3-2 four weeks ago before New York rallied, scoring three times in the final 7:14 for a 4-3 victory. The Islanders nearly did it again, coming back from early deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 before Crosby's heroics.
"We were flirting with danger and we realized that in the third," Crosby said.
Malkin has been productive with 14 assists in 15 games—12 coming in nine November games—but had no goals to show for it. He previously scored Oct. 17 during a 4-1 win at Philadelphia and it showed as emotion poured from Malkin, who aggressively pumped his fist and slammed his stick against the end boards after beating Poulin midway through the second period.
"It's a good moment for him to get the goal," Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's played some really good hockey and has done some really good things. To see the puck dribble over the line was a great moment for him."
New York committed three penalties in the first 7:42 of the game, and Kunitz made the Islanders pay, staking the Penguins to a 2-0 lead with two power-play goals in 7:55.
Crosby and Malkin's slick tic-tac-toe passing sequence set up Kunitz's first goal 4:04 into the game. Kunitz scored his second less than four minutes later, blowing a slap shot past Poulin after taking a pass off the rush from Neal.
Kunitz thought he had the natural hat trick with 1:10 left in the first period, but a high-sticking call on Malkin before the puck went in negated the goal.
That allowed Vanek to trim the Penguins' lead to a goal 1:46 into the second period.
Malkin helped the Penguins regain the two-goal advantage less than 5 minutes later. Malkin initially passed to an open Neal on the left wing but he dished it back to the Penguins' superstar, who slid a shot underneath Poulin with a defender draped on his back.
Malkin's goal gave the Penguins life as Pittsburgh buzzed the Islanders' zone looking for more. The Islanders weathered the storm, tying the game a little more than 5 minutes later with two goals in less than 2 minutes.
McDonald started the comeback, beating Zatkoff with a wrist shot to the blocker side off the rush. Vanek scored his second of the game soon after, finding a loose puck during a scrum in front after the Islanders capitalized on a Penguins turnover.
"I think in the second period we had opportunities, but it was up-and-down opportunities," Bylsma said. "At that point, we were not in a game we wanted to play regardless of the score."
NOTES: Penguins' F Beau Bennett left the game with an injury and will be re-evaluated. ... Islanders D Andrew MacDonald and C Frans Nielsen will also be re-evaluated Saturday. ... The Penguins and Islanders meet in two weeks at the Nassau Coliseum. ... Both teams are in action Saturday, Pittsburgh visiting Montreal, while the Islanders continue a three-game road swing at Philadelphia.