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New York Islanders

Islanders Pull Past Penguins To Enter Postseason On High Note

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AP Photo/Seth Wenig

When a game doesn’t mean much in terms of standings, it may as well be entertaining.

Having already clinched a spot in the postseason, the final game of the regular season served as a tuneup for the New York Islanders before the playoffs, and they received a good one, winning a back-and-forth affair against the Pittsburgh Penguins by a final of 5-4 Wednesday night at UBS Arena.

“You just want to make sure you play the game the right way,” said Islanders head coach Patrick Roy to reporters in Elmont. “You don’t want to develop bad habits. That’s what I love about this group. There are so many veterans, and they knew it was important to play the right way. It was great leadership, and I really appreciate every one of them for the way they came into play today.”

With Pittsburgh playing for nothing more than pride, Sidney Crosby had the chance to send the game to overtime with a penalty shot but had his backhand attempt stopped by Ilya Sorokin, who stopped 40 of the 44 shots he faced.

“We gave up so many chances,” Roy said. “I mean, both goalies played really well because, with the number of chances out there, that’s a tough game for a goaltender, and I felt almost sorry for them.”

Alex Nedeljkovic made 27 saves in net for Pittsburgh but couldn’t block Simon Holmstrom’s 15th goal of the season, which decided the game at 14:27 of the third period.

The score fluctuated throughout the game and changed three times in the final period alone.

Just a minute and a half into the third, Samuel Bolduc scored on the power play to put the Islanders ahead 4-3. Playing in his first game since Jan. 27, Bolduc’s goal was his second of the season and came off the first career assist for Ruslan Iskhakov, making his NHL debut.

“That was a great experience,” said Iskhakov to reporters. “I’m glad we won. I’m pretty sure that’ll give some boost to the guys for their first [playoff game]. For me, it was a great experience.”

Iskhakov’s first game in the NHL was also the final for Penguins forward Jeff Carter. The veteran scored 442 goals during his 19-year career, the last of which came on the man advantage at 10:56 of the third to tie the game back up at 4-4.

It was the kind of goal that has broken the Islanders’ backs numerous times this season. But in game No. 82, they found a way to brace themselves.

“I think it was just frustration early in the year after letting some leads go,” Roy said. “From the get-go, I knew it was just a matter of getting some confidence and feeling comfortable out there. I think that’s the big change. We’re more confident out there. Our mindset is in the right place. We stay calm, and we don’t let the game get the best of us.”

Brock Nelson started the Islanders’ offense at 4:56 of the first period. Skating stride for stride with Penguins forward Valtteri Puustinen, Nelson created just enough separation on the rush to catch a backhand pass from Holmstrom and put it past Nedeljkovic for his 34th goal of the season.

Twice, Kyle Palmieri almost gave the Islanders a two-goal lead entering the intermission with a couple of near misses on prime scoring chances. Instead, the score was locked at 1-1 at the end of the opening 20 minutes after Rikard Rakell snuck a shot through at 18:29 of the first.

Pittsburgh jumped ahead at 6:14 of the second period when Evgeni Malkin scored a goal on the power play that passed video review. With Sebastian Aho in the penalty box for tripping, Crosby sent a pass from the left faceoff circle that hit off Malkin’s left skate at the far post and into the back of the net, giving the Penguins a 2-1 advantage.

The Penguins almost took a two-goal lead a few moments later, but the would-be goal for Puustinen was disallowed for offsides. Puustinen eventually managed to find the back of the net at 14:37 of the frame, but not before Casey Cizikas did so for the Islanders at 13:19 with his 10th goal of the year.

As time ticked down in the second, it looked as if the Penguins’ 3-2 lead was going to hold entering the third. That was until Palmieri finally beat Nedeljkovic clean with a one-timer, scoring on the power play with 15 seconds remaining in the period to tie the score.

The goal was the 30th of the season for Palmieri, making it just the second instance in his career he’s reached the 30-goal plateau and the first time as a member of the Islanders.

“I’m very happy for Palms,” said Roy. He’s a leader on our team. He’s been playing so well, and seeing him be rewarded with that goal—it was phenomenal passing before that one-timer—it’s nice to see him in that position. I’m very happy for him.”

With Palmieri, Nelson and Bo Horvat all scoring 30 goals or more this year, it’s the first time since 1993-94 that the Islanders had at least three players reach that mark in the same season, according to Eric Hornick.

By beating Pittsburgh, the Islanders finished their regular season with wins in eight of their last nine games and an overall record of 39-27-16.

The Islanders enter the postseason as the third seed in the Metropolitan Division and will meet the Carolina Hurricanes in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight season, starting on Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to getting revenge on Carolina,” said Holmstrom to reporters. “We’ve been on a hot streak here, and we’re just trying to keep that going.”

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