UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Sidney Crosby managed to smile despite a swollen nose that was still bleeding long after it was struck by a puck.
The Penguins captain had reason to be happy. His nose wasn’t broken, and Pittsburgh held off the New York Islanders in a third period that turned more tense than expected.
Pittsburgh built a three-goal lead, and Marc-Andre Fleury seemed on track for a shutout, but New York rallied to get within one before falling short in a 4-2 loss on Tuesday night.
The Islanders had been the only Atlantic Division rival the Penguins hadn’t beaten this season. Pittsburgh escaped despite facing seven power plays against, including one with under seven minutes left when New York pressed for the tying goal.
“I didn’t feel like we were out of control or undisciplined,” Fleury said. “Maybe we made a few mistakes and that ended up costing us. Other than that, I thought we worked pretty hard and played pretty well.”
James Neal staked Pittsburgh to an early lead, and Simon Despres and Brandon Sutter extended it. Fleury made 32 saves and didn’t get a chance to really relax until Pascal Dupuis’ empty-net goal in the final minute.
The Penguins looked plenty comfortable when they took a 3-0 lead 1:44 into the third on Sutter’s goal, but the Islanders suddenly stormed back just as it seemed they would be shut out at home for the second straight game.
Michael Grabner began the comeback at 3:14, and Brad Boyes – moved up to the top line for this game – made it 3-2 just 35 seconds later.
“Not too nervous,” Fleury said with a slight laugh. “We’ve played those types of games quite a bit, so I think the whole team stayed calm and kept playing in our system. I don’t think they got much after that.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called timeout and settled down his club, which won its fourth straight dating to a home loss against the Islanders last Tuesday.
“They were buzzing and we knew that we had to find a way to slow things down,” Crosby said. “It was a good call by the coach to do that, and the guys responded really well.”
So did the Penguins captain. He briefly left the ice in the second period after he was struck in the face. Some fans cheered Crosby’s injury but to their dismay, only a few minutes elapsed before he was back on the bench and then on the ice.
“Am I gushing still? I can’t tell,” he said as he dabbed at his nose. “It’s not a very comfortable situation to be in when you’re gushing.
“Nice surprise. I’m glad that it’s not broken.”
The Islanders’ offensive woes were also a surprise, just not a pleasant one for New York. The Islanders had scored at least four goals in five of its first seven games before being blanked by New Jersey Sunday.
“We came back and got into the game,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “I’m happy with the energy and the work ethic our guys showed. We put up 30-plus shots against a good hockey team. It’s not good enough, I realize that.”
Pittsburgh made the most of limited pressure on goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The Penguins were being outshot 23-10 at the time of Despres’ goal with 4 minutes left in the middle period that made it 2-0.
Fleury was strong in keeping the Islanders at bay over the first 40 minutes as New York was constantly on the power play. The Islanders had been potent with the man advantage in the early part of the season, but they have gone cold in their past 14 opportunities over two games – 0 for 7 in each.
“We have to get shots on the net,” captain Mark Streit said. “We need to get to the rebounds first. I think we can improve. We had a lot of chances, and Fleury made some really good saves, you have to give him credit, but at the end of the day, we have to score on the power play.”
Fleury got help from a quick whistle in the first period after he smothered a shot by Matt Moulson. The puck trickled behind Fleury and was swept in by John Tavares, but too late.
“I thought I had it under my arm, so I don’t know how it slipped back there,” Fleury said. “It was nice to have that one not count.”
Nabokov was bailed out by his defense 6:21 in when Crosby nearly slipped a shot in from near the right post. The puck got behind Nabokov and sat on the goal line before Andrew MacDonald used his hand to swat it out of danger.
Neal gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead on Pittsburgh’s second shot, 6 seconds into Marty Reasoner’s holding penalty. Crosby sent a cross-zone pass to Neal, who curled into the right circle and snapped a shot past Nabokov at 2:58.
Nabokov held New Jersey without a goal for more than 56 minutes Sunday and then gave up two in short order. The Devils closed the barrage with an empty-net goal to hand the Islanders a 3-0 loss.
Adding in Neal’s early tally, New York allowed four goals in 6:52 of playing time over two games.
New York had been 26 of 27 when killing penalties until Sunday.
After clicking six times in the previous eight power-play chances over three games, the Islanders failed on all seven opportunities against the Devils and couldn’t find the range versus Pittsburgh, either.
“We did a pretty good job,” Crosby said. “When we had to kind of shut things down, we made some big blocks, big kills.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin was kept off the score sheet after he posted multiple points in three straight games. ... The Islanders had beaten Pittsburgh three straight games by a combined score of 14-7. ... New York hadn’t been at least 0 for 7 on power plays in consecutive games since March 28-30, 2003.