The game-winning goal came from Anders Lee 8:55 into the third after an exchange of power plays interrupted what had been an intense and cagey five-on-five game. But with the Isles clinging to the lead and killing yet another power play, Halak went down, bringing Thomas Greiss in with just over four minutes left.
Greiss made a few saves, but it was Travis Hamonic who saved the game on the Penguins' last-ditch effort with a kick save.
In the chase for the second Metropolitan Division playoff spot, the win kept the Isles on pace three points behind the Rangers, who won in Buffalo as well. It pushed them to five points ahead of the Penguins, who are not yet comfortably safe in their wild card push.
First Period: Many Many Shootings
The Penguins very nearly scored right off the get-go when Jaroslav Halak robbed Phil Kessel from point blank range, getting the crowd into it with chants of Ja-ro.
Halak was called upon often in the first period, but the Islanders forecheck was creating lots of pressure. They struck first, just nine seconds into a power play that had Patric Hornqvist off for hooking. John Tavares, who had a great game, scored inside the far post around a Lee screen that gave Marc-Andre Fleury little to see.
However, the Penguins had a golden opportunity to tie it during a four-on-four track meet that came after good buddies Travis Hamonic and Evgeni Malkin went off for coincidental roughing penalties. Hamonic checked Malkin behind the net, Malkin crosschecked him a couple of times, they traded crosschecks, then bear-hugged in what Hamonic took to be the universal cue to drop the gloves. They tumbled to the ice and Malkin didn't drop his gloves, but he did throw in a late punch as they were being separated.
With the teams' top offensive weapons on (minus Malkin) at 4-on-4, Johnny Boychuk's blast hit Fleury square in the neck protector. The puck bounced out to the slot, the Pens transitioned the other way, and Kris Letang picked a corner above Jaroslav Halak's glove after the Penguins criss-crossed on their entry into the zone.
That seemed to breathe more life into the Penguins, who had a couple of stretches in the final six minutes where the Isles couldn't get out of their zone. But no more scoring resulted as the first ended tied, 1-1.
Second Period: As You Were, but Tilting
The most frightening moment of the second period was a Bryan Rust rush to the outside of Leddy where he hit the post with a backhand shot. The Penguins also received a power play 13 minutes in after Leddy crosschecked Hornqvist to prevent a chance just above the crease, but the Isles killed that without giving up any scary rebounds.
So they reached the second intermission still deadlocked on the first-period goals. Shots were 23-17 and scoring chances 21-17 for the Penguins after two periods, with the Penguins continuing their ice-tilting that began in the final quarter of the first period.
In particular, the Isles' top four defensemen and the line of Bailey-Nielsen-Okposo had gotten worked over in their matchups with the Malkin-Kessel line.
Third Period: Everyone Loves Refs
The referees were not popular with either team in the third period.
That Nielsen line finally had a good shift against the Malkin line, in large part thanks to the work of Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey to keep the puck in, and eventually leading to a power play at 4:04 after Kessel whacked Okposo's stick out of his hands. Kessel drew a warning from the refs for complaining.
They missed an opportunity with that extra man when Kris Letang's stick broke, but Anders Lee's cross-ice pass ramped off Frans Nielsen's blade and out of play, ending that part of the advantage. Lee became the story of that power play. He had a couple of different shovels in tight that Fleury stopped, and then he was the reason the power play ended 16 seconds early.
Lee was taking a beating in front of the net from defensemen Ian Cole and then Brian Dumoulin, including a butt-end to the chin that drew blood, but he was whistled for a penalty of his own when he slashed Dumoulin's stick out of his hands. Lee too drew a warning from the refs for complaining as he went off.
The Penguins worked the puck around quickly on that one, but Hamonic was allowed the same liberties with Hornqvist that the Pens enjoyed with Lee. The best chance was when Malkin didn't get all of a shot on a brilliant set up by Kessel.
Letang Says That's Not Lefair
Then it was the Isles' turn, with more drama in front.
An enraged Matt Cullen was sent off for crosschecking Ryan Pulock above the neck line after he'd taken a big hit from Nikolay Kulemin in the corner. The Isles worked the power play well, Lee again taking abuse in front. Nick Leddy's blast from the point deflected off Lee and squirted past Fleury with Letang flailing in front after getting dumped by the big Isles winger.
On the play Letang had crosschecked Lee initally; Lee responded in kind causing Letang to pinwheel to the ice as the puck went in, and Letang responded by slashing Lee from the ice, then getting up and crosschecking him twice in a wonderful hissy fit. The best part was him turning and complaining to the ref as he went after Lee, because it's not fair if someone stronger pushes back.
No penalty was issued to Letang; the shame and a strongly worded ref talking to was apparently enough.
Cole soon took a penalty for dumping Hamonic in the neutral zone, but the Isles spent all of that one trying to hand the Penguins shorthanded opportunities. Thank Bossy that Nick Bonino didn't have his wheels. After it expired, Boychuk had a prime cannon opportunity from the slot that Fleury did very well to get his glove arm on and prevent an insurance goal.
Halak Goes Down
And then, some drama that will have longer-reaching implications than just this game. On a shot from the point, Halak went into a wide butterfly stretch and didn't get back up. He'd had a very good, and very active, night so far. Play was whistled with the puck still in play, Halak was visited by the trainer but knew he had to head straight to the locker room after 31 saves.
Greiss came in cold, with 4:22 left, and the Isles leading by a goal. To make it worse, Okposo immediately took a penalty for high-sticking Malkin.
An absolutely gutsy, exhausting penalty kill followed, with the Isles having multiple almost-clears that the Pens did really well to keep in. The final 30 seconds of the power play were marked by Penguins pressure that probably came from an offside zone entry, which surely would've been challenged on replay had a goal been scored.
Brian Strait helped save a goal on a wraparound attempt by Scott Wilson when Greiss lost an edge.
(Just gonna leave that there. Greiss' paddle was essential to keep the puck out as well, but might not have been enough.)
The puck bounced around like a crazy jumping bean in the final few minutes.
Greiss ended up with three saves, but Hamonic made the final save of the game, with seven seconds remaining, on a Kessel one-timer that was headed for the empty net after another lethal cross-ice pass. (A pass that shouldn't have been allowed, frankly. Kulemin was way too passive, particularly given the play you know the Pens love to run there.)
Hamonic game-saver in the final seconds pic.twitter.com/z4gdZmxz1G— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 9, 2016
Hamonic on stopping Kessel late: "I've got the shot blockers on, might as well use 'em." Said Greiss would've had it anyway.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 9, 2016
Up Next: No Rest
Well, this is probably why J-F Berube is still around, no? Halak's injury did not look short-term (and I personally experienced serious deja vu there), and the Isles have a busy final month of the season.
They play tomorrow night in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs are rested and waiting to spoil. If they are to cash in their three games in hand and catch the Rangers, they'll need to not let things like that be an excuse.