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Penguins get 11th straight victory

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' winning streak began March 2 in spite of goalie Tomas Vokoun, who allowed six goals against the Canadiens that night in Montreal.

Twenty days later, Vokoun paid his teammates back by almost single-handedly extending the winning streak.

Vokoun made 33 saves, including 13 apiece in the first and second periods, and Brandon Sutter scored the tie-breaking goal less than two minutes into the third period as the Penguins recorded their 11th straight win by beating the New York Islanders, 4-2, at Nassau Coliseum on Friday.

The Penguins (24-8-0) tied the Blackhawks for the longest winning streak in the NHL this season (Chicago won 11 in a row from Feb. 15 through March 6) and moved within six wins of tying the NHL's all-time longest winning streak, set by the Penguins 20 years ago.

Joe Vitale and Chris Kunitz scored tying goals in the second period and Pascal Dupuis scored an empty netter as time expired to give the Penguins just their fourth win during the streak by a multi-goal margin.

The Penguins have outscored the opposition 44-25 during their run but have scored three goals or less in each of their last six wins after tallying at least five goals in four of the first five victories.

"I think early on [when] we were winning, it kind of seemed like there were a ton of goals," said Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who collected two assists Friday. "But I think we focused on bearing down a bit more defensively. Our goalies have played tremendous."

Without Vokoun's efforts in the first 40 minutes Friday, the Penguins' streak likely would have come to an end. The Islanders (13-15-3) were trying to stop a two-game losing streak and gain ground in the race for the eighth seed in the East. And they certainly played like a team trying to save its season in the first period.

The Islanders displayed more energy than the Penguins and controlled play on both ends of the ice in the first, when the Islanders held the Penguins without a shot on goal until the 11:53 mark and finished the period with a 14-3 advantage in shots.

In addition, Islanders enforcer Matt Martin tangled with Craig Adams less than four minutes into the game, which earned him an appreciative ovation from the Nassau Coliseum crowd as well as a five-minute penalty.

"We knew we were going to play a desperate team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't know if they were ready for us or they were desperate because of their situation, but they played really hard and really took it to us."

But Vokoun managed to hold off the Islanders in his fourth straight impressive start, a span in which he's allowed just four goals. He allowed 28 goals in his first nine games of the season (seven starts).

"I've been through games this year when I wasn't playing so good and the team lifted me up and we won 7-6 in Montreal," Vokoun said. "So that's why it's a team sport. We all [help] each other. Sometimes you help the team and some nights the team's going to help you."

Kunitz's goal with just 14 seconds left in the second period provided the Penguins with the momentum heading into intermission. Sutter capitalized on it just 1:46 into the third when he capped a 2-on-1 opportunity by beating Evgeni Nabokov.

"For most of the game, it probably could have gone either way," Sutter said. "But our goalie made some saves and we found a way to win by two goals at the end there."

The Islanders had a handful of scoring chances in the third period but failed to take advantage of two power plays in the last eight minutes.

"I'm really proud of the way we battled and won this game and came back," Bylsma said. "Different guys get different goals, our penalty kill [played] well. Tomas Vokoun playing real strong. Definitely a big win."

Mark Streit and Josh Bailey scored for the Islanders, who outshot the Penguins 35-25 but still missed a chance to close in on the idle Hurricanes and Rangers, who are tied for eighth place. Instead, the Islanders -- who have not made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season -- remained three points behind.

Nabokov made 21 saves for the Islanders.

"We don't have that much time left, so we have to find it quick," Nabokov said. "The last three games, we've been giving up three or more goals and it's not good enough. I have to find a way to cut it down to one or two."

The loss marked the eighth time this season -- and the second night in a row -- the Islanders have lost a game in which they led. The Islanders also fell to an NHL-worst 5-11-2 at home and 0-3 on their four-game homestand. Only two other teams, the Hurricanes and Panthers, have losing records at home.

After peppering Vokoun with nine shots in the first seven minutes, the Islanders finally broke through following a faceoff, when Streit took a pass from Matt Carkner just inside the blue line and sailed a slap shot past Vokoun's outstretched glove.

The Penguins tied it 8:11 into the second when Vitale beat Nabokov with a shot into the upper right corner of the net for his second goal of the year.

The Islanders capped a three-shot flurry with 2:42 left in the second when Bailey put back the rebound of a John Tavares shot. But the Penguins needed just 2:28 to tie it again on Kunitz's goal.

NOTES: Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (upper body injury) missed his seventh straight game and defenseman Kris Letang (lower body injury) missed his second consecutive contest. ... The Penguins set the NHL record for longest winning streak when they won 17 in a row from March 9-April 10, 1993. The Penguins' bid for a third straight Stanley Cup was ended a little more than a month later by the Islanders, who upset Pittsburgh in seven games in the Patrick Division finals. That remains the Islanders' last postseason series win. ... Center Trevor Smith was active for the Penguins after he was recalled from their AHL club, Wilkes-Barre, earlier Friday. Smith last played in the NHL for the Lightning on March 29, 2012. ... The Islanders scratched defensemen Thomas Hickey and Radek Martinek and winger Eric Boulton. In addition to Letang, the Penguins also scratched defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and center Tyler Kennedy. ... The Islanders play their final set of back-to-back games April 1-2, when they visit the Devils and host the Jets, respectively.
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