PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Friday's game looking to take a 2-0 series lead over the New York Islanders, but the bigger story surrounding this game was the return of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby after an absence of 13 games due to a broken jaw.
But despite the presence of Crosby, the Islanders evened the series with a 4-3 victory over the Penguins.
James Neal was not in the lineup for the Penguins in Game 2 because of what is speculated to be a lower body injury, but Crosby was deemed to be a suitable replacement after receiving medical clearance to return to game action. His 33 career playoff goals and 57 career playoff assists bolster an already talent-rich lineup that was brimming with confidence after a 5-0 thrashing of the Islanders in Game 1.
Game 2 proved to be a much different affair, however, as the Penguins surrendered two, two-goal leads in the loss.
The Islanders took advantage of a power play opportunity and several fortuitous bounces off the back boards to tie the series at 1-1.
Before Crosby even touched the ice the Penguins were already up 1-0. A mere 43 seconds into the contest, Evgeni Malkin took a Jarome Iginla pass and threw it on net from in tight, got his own rebound and shoveled it past Islanders netminder Evgeni Nabokov.
Minutes later, Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald took an undisciplined slashing penalty when he slashed the stick out of Jussi Jokinen's hands, putting the Penguins on the power play. Just as in Game 1, the Penguins power play took advantage of its first opportunity of the game. Malkin fired a long slap toward the net that caromed off the glass behind the net and eventually ended up on the stick of Crosby, who wristed the puck into the net from a nearly impossible angel while straddling the goal line. The goal came at the 3:19 mark of the first and gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead.
The Islanders got a power play marker of their own at 7:04 of the first frame. With Deryk Engelland off for crosschecking, Matt Moulson attempted a cross-crease pass to teammate Brad Boyes. That attempted pass got diverted along the way by Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin's stick, then went off goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's skate and into the net for the Islanders first goal of the game, and the series.
The Islanders power play goal didn't seem to faze the Penguins one bit, as they scored just 18 seconds later. It was Crosby again, showing no signs of rust, grabbing the rebound from a Pascal Dupuis shot and wristing it over Nabokov for his second goal of the game, giving the Penguins a 3-1 lead.
Just seconds after a spirited bout between Matt Niskanen and Kyle Okposo, the Islanders pulled within one. At the 5:12 mark of the second, the Islanders' MacDonald, with his entire body positioned below the goal line, took a rebound off of the glass and tipped it between the right post and Fleury's leg to, once again, pull the Islanders within one. New York continued its comeback at 10:37 of the second when Matt Martin tapped the rebound of a Josh Bailey shot off the back boards past Fleury, who found himself out of position after having committed to Bailey's shot.
The Penguins had a golden opportunity to re-take the lead late in the second and carrying over to the third with John Tavares off for four minutes for high-sticking Brenden Morrow, but the Islanders' penalty kill was equal to the task.
That penalty kill proved to be vital, as the Islanders took their first lead of the game at 12:23 of the third when Okposo fired a hard wrist shot off the back boards that bounced wildly back in front, off of the back of Fleury's pad and into the net.
Nabokov made 30 saves to earn the win, while Fleury was tagged with the loss after making 38 saves.
Game 3 is on Sunday on Long Island.
NOTES: With defenseman Brooks Orpik missing the first two games of the series due to a lower body injury, Pittsburgh goaltender Fleury is now the only Penguins player to have appeared in all 77 playoff games during the team's current seven consecutive playoff appearance run. ... Including playoff games, Islanders goaltender Nabokov has played in 43 of the Islanders' 50 games this season. ... Malkin and Iginla recorded their 33rd and 16th career multipoint playoff games, respectively. ... The Islanders went the entire season without losing consecutive road games in regulation. ... Scratches for the Penguins included Neal, Orpik, and forward Tyler Kennedy. Scratches for the Islanders included defenseman Radek Martinek and forward Marty Reasoner.