Lee’s late tally bails out Isles vs. champs
Scores in Final Minute after Penguins Rally for Three Goals in Third
The New York Islanders have been long overdue for some “puck luck”, as Anders Lee quaintly put it.
Lee was the beneficiary of a fortunate deflection Wednesday night as his tip-in goal with just under 27 seconds remaining in regulation lifted the Islanders to a stirring 5-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins before a crowd of 12,149 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“We had that puck luck,” Lee admitted moments after his re-direct of a Johnny Boychuk slap shot beat Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray in the final half-minute to snap a 3-3 deadlock and give New York its first two-game winning streak since Oct. 21-23.
“We just have to grind it out,” added Lee, who scored his fourth goal in as many games. “Tonight we were able to come through with a game-winning goal. [It] was a great shot and I was able to tip in. We’ve faced enough adversity for a season. Tonight we were able to find a way.”
Doing so against the owners of Lord Stanley’s coveted cup on home ice provided an extra boon for a team that is still languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with only 20 points through 22 games.
Especially after the Isles squandered a three-goal lead over the first 13 minutes of the third period.
“That was big for us,” Lee ceded. “It was an ugly third, but we won the game and right now we need that kind of momentum.”
The Brooklyn-based NHL franchise was poised to complete its first three-game win streak of this otherwise disappointing campaign Thursday night in Washington against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
Boychuk opened the scoring with just 13 seconds remaining in the opening period and Jason Chimera and Casey Cizikas tallied in the second to provide what appeared to be a safe 3-0 advantage.
However, as has been the case throughout the first month and a half of the Isles’ second season here, that lead dwindled in the third.
Conor Sheary beat Thomas Greiss 32 seconds into the final stanza and Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin scored within a three-minute span to knot it at 3-3 with 6:52 to play.
“The win is big, but you can’t give up a three-goal lead in the third period,” noted Chimera. “You can’t sit back against any team, especially against that team… Anders’ goal was a huge goal for us and a scrappy two points is big because we need them for sure.”
“Sometimes you can try to work your way back but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby added. “We were able to tie it up and, unfortunately, not at least force overtime.”
Scott Mayfield, called up to fill-in for injured defenseman Adam Pelech (upper-body injury), had a pair of assists in the second period for New York, which finished off the champs on Nikolay Kulemin’s empty-net goal with 24 ticks left on the clock.
Head coach Jack Capuano, who has suffered through chants calling for his job and watched his team throw away winnable games in the third period for the past several weeks, was happy to see the Orange and Blue scrap one out by getting to the front of the net when it mattered most.
“As a coach, that’s where you want to see your guys go,” Capuano said. “Jason goes to the paint. Casey goes to the paint. Anders Lee goes to the paint, that’s where you’re going to score in this league. You go to those dirty areas.”
Greiss finished with 31 saves and improved to 5-4 on the season, perhaps further cementing his emerging status as Capuano’s top netminder with veteran Jaroslav Halak sitting for the third straight contest.
“We just had to grind it out and we did,” Lee said. “We faced this kind of stuff enough this year and we’re sick of it.”
Sick and tired of losing, and even more upset that that they’ll be desperately chasing points to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt for the foreseeable future.
But a few more wins like the one they pulled out Wednesday night should bolster the Isles’ confidence, and more importantly, their place in the standings.
“Our guys battled right to the end and we found a way to win,” Capuano said.
Isle Have Another: After being a healthy scratch in the previous two games, Ryan Strome logged nearly 13 minutes of ice time Wednesday and put a couple of shots on net. Strome, inked to a two-year deal this past summer, has been struggling to stay on the ice due to his underperformance. He almost had an assist in the third period against the Pens, but Murray made a sprawling save on captain John Tavares’ shot off a feed from Strome during a 5-on-3 power-play for New York. … The Isles have scored the first goal of the game three times in a row after failing to do so in 14 of their previous 19 contests. … The Isles finished November with a 4-5-4 mark. … New York has won 21 consecutive games when scoring the first three goals.
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