Islanders vs. Penguins Game 4 recap: John Tavares scores winner, Evgeni Malkin fights as New York ties series

Bruce Bennett

The Islanders have tied their series with the top-seeded Penguins, and the temperature is rising.

John Tavares scored the game-winning goal as the New York Islanders tied their first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins in a wild, back-and-forth Game 4 at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders came from behind, and from ahead, multiple times to win 6-4.

For a series that began with a laughable 5-0 slaughter by the Penguins in Game 1, this has become a riveting and highly competitive series. The game ended with punches thrown in the corner, Evgeni Malkin and Travis Hamonic grappling after Jarome Iginla hit Matt Martin against the boards as time expired.

Here is a snippet of what will surely mean bad blood for Game 5 on Thursday in Pittsburgh:

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That exchange resulted in meaningless fighting majors for both Hamonic and Malkin after Malkin answered with a series of undercuts as that scrum morphed further up the boards.

An earlier example of the physicality in this game came when Matt Cooke's thunderous hit on Matt Carkner helped set up a Brandon Sutter goal that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead in the second period:

Cookehit_medium

Trading goals in each period, the Penguins erased two Islanders one-goal leads, then the Islanders erased two one-goal Penguins leads, including the final one in the third period.

With the way Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Nabokov have been playing in this series, no lead is safe. However, the game-winner cannot be pinned on Fleury.

Tavares scored it 10:11 into the third period with a fantastic individual effort where he collected his own rebound:

Islanders5_medium

Casey Cizikas added an insurance goal with 1:16 left, keeping the Penguins from pulling Fleury for a sixth attacker and providing another example that indicts Fleury's play in this series.

Earlier examples included this goal by Kyle Okposo from behind the net, which tied the game at 3-3 going into the second intermission:

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That's the second Okposo goal this series that Fleury has helped over the line.

Overall, however, this game turned several of the series' patterns around. The Islanders special teams finally worked, scoring a power play goal and keeping the Penguins' lethal power play off the board. And unlike the previous two games, the Penguins outshot the Islanders, 31-24. The Islanders were also able to hold Sidney Crosby to just one assist.

Outside of Fleury's goaltending and despite the loss, the Penguins can take solace in their improved play and the return of James Neal, who scored an impressive goal from a sharp angle in the first period. That was one of two occasions where the Penguins answered within a minute of an Islanders go-ahead goal.

In this series, no lead is safe, and no goalie can be trusted.

Before the game, we considered three questions. How did the teams answer them?

Can the Islanders fix their penalty kill?

Basically, yes. The Penguins went scoreless on two power play opportunities, though that is hardly enough to assure the Islanders they've fixed their penalty kill. More important was being shorthanded only twice.

Will Evgeni Nabokov be merely mediocre again?

Yes, but fortunately for the Islanders, Fleury was much worse.

Just how badly can the Penguins defense play?

This one depends on whom you ask. Fleury was to blame on at least half of the six goals he allowed, but the Penguins to a man after the game were blaming themselves for poor defensive coverage. Clearly the Islanders' speed and puck mobility is still a challenge the Penguins need to overcome.

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