No matter how powerful the dynasty or how dominant the team, it always seems that there is at least one surprising stumbling block during their seasons. Steve Yzerman's Red Wings had the Colorado Avalanche (or vice versa), Michael Jordan's Bulls dropped games to the L.A. Clippers, and even the New England Patriots often could not find the answer against the Miami Dolphins.
Such tales will hopefully be some comfort for Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who continue to chase the New York Rangers for first overall in the Eastern Conference, yet cannot make their way past the lowly Islanders.
For much of the first period, the two teams would jockey for position, with the Penguins holding an early edge on the shot clock, but neither team would find an advantage until Josh Bailey handed the puck to Islanders captain Mark Streit deep in the Penguins zone. Streit circled behind the net before firing the puck up to Marty Reasoner as he entered the zone off a late change. The veteran forward would fire a quick wrist shot from just inside the blue line for his first goal of the season, and his first point in over 30 games.
Holding off a late Pittsburgh power play, the Islanders nursed their lead well into the second period and seemed poised to extend it when Simon Despres was called for hooking. The Penguins, however, had other ideas, and Pascal Dupuis would head into the Islanders zone in the dying seconds of of the penalty, taking a pass from Craig Adams and firing a bullet from the the left faceoff dot that would bounce off the crossbar and into the net.
The Islanders responded, however, in no small part thanks to Bailey, the team's 2008 first round draft pick. With Brooks Orpik in the box for hooking, Bailey battled for the puck along the boards before sending a cross-ice pass to Kyle Okposo for a one-timer to break the tie.
Minutes later, with Matt Martin called for boarding for a hit on Brian Strait, Bailey poked the puck away from Evgeni Malkin at the Islander blue line, then bolted for the Penguins' zone after Jay Pandolfo dove for the loose puck and connected with a perfect lead pass. Evading both a backchecking Malkin and a poke check attempt by Fleury, he backhanded the puck into an empty net to extend the lead to 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Bailey would work with Frans Nielsen to set up Okposo for his second goal of the game and 20th of the season early in the third period, but the Penguins would finally start to counter-punch midway through the third period. Zbynek Michalek would send a long pass through the neutral zone to Jordan Staal, giving him the opportunity to get one on one with Montoya before going backhand shelf, cutting the Islanders' lead to two.
Despite the Penguins battering Montoya through the period as they tried to capitalize, the Islanders defense worked to keep control of the game until the final minutes of regulation. With Fleury called to the bench for an extra attacker, Evgeni Malkin fired a long wrist shot through traffic to bring the Penguins within a goal. The tally would mark his 47th goal and 100th point this season, making him the fourth player in Penguins history with three or more 100-point seasons. (The others being, unsurprisingly, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby.)
The Penguins pulled Fleury again in hopes of lightning striking twice in the final minute of play and nearly succeeded when Sidney Crosby fired a shot that was just barely gloved aside by Montoya. The last word went to Mr. Bailey, who outmuscled Steve Sullivan for the puck at the boards before driving through center ice and delivering the dagger into the open net.
The five point performance is Bailey's best of the season, and gives him nine points this season versus Pittsburgh in their series.
The Penguins had entered the series with hopes of passing the Rangers for first in the East, but the back to back losses now have them more concerned with losing ground to the surging Philadelphia Flyers prior to their meeting on Sunday afternoon.