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Islanders capitalize on chances, top Pens 6-3

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Jordan Eberle scored back-to-back goals in the 2nd period, catapulting the New York Islanders to a cruise control 6-3 win over Pittsburgh Tuesday night, in the Penguins' first game back at PPG Paints Arena in nearly two weeks.

It wasn't exactly a desirable homecoming.

 

On a night filled with pregame emotions, Pittsburgh (6-2-2) could not maintain a momentum that was built up in the 1st period, which saw two goals from New York (6-4-1) quickly answered by Dominik Simon and a vicious Sidney Crosby forehand rocket that slipped by goalie Robin Lehner's glove, going top shelf and tying things to close the action packed opening 20 minutes.

 

“I thought we played a pretty spirited 1st period. We come out with tons of energy,” said Mike Sullivan. “I think it was emotional four our guys. We wanted to inspire our city.”

 

Despite just 25 shots on goals, the Islanders found the net when they needed to, punching through four of the last five goals scored in the game, with Eberle and Matt Martin hitting the scoring column in the 2nd period, chasing Matt Murray from net, after surrendering four goals on nine shots.

 

“We didn't give up a lot of chances, but unfortunately the ones we did ended up in the net,” explained Sullivan. “It was one of those nights.”

 

Sullivan talked about the decision to go with Casey DeSmith after Eberle scored his second goal at the 13:49 mark of the 2nd period, a dancing finish along the crease that trickled by Murray's glove on the man-advantage.

 

“Sometimes you make a change, it's not about the goalie, it's about the rest of the group,” coach said. “I don't fault Matt for the goals. They were really high quality chances.”

 

Playing without game-time scratch Kris Letang, the Pens worked with an unusual pairing on the blue line that saw Brian Dumoulin teamed up with Juuso Riikola on the 1st line.

 

“We thought, based on circumstances, that he was the best guy at this particular time to plug into that job,” Sullivan said of going with Riikola on the top line. “I thought, for the most part, Juuso did a commendable job. We would have liked to see him shoot the puck a little more. We thought he was a little reluctant to shoot the puck.”

 

Overall, the Pens shot the puck on net 38 times, with a through the legs crease finish from Evgeni Malkin just 1:23 into the 3rd period marking the final time the home team would hit the back of the net.

 

Crosby looked at the chances taken on offense that ultimately spelled demise, leaving a door open for man-advantages on the other end of the ice.

 

“I think you just try to stick with it. We made some mistakes that were really big ones. Ones that opened up scoring chances for them,” explained Sid, who tallied his 6th goal of the season Tuesday night. “When you're going offensively, you just have to be a little more patient, don't force it and trust that you'll get the goals. We probably opened it up a bit in the 2nd [period] and paid for it.”

 

Making his return to Pittsburgh, where he played his first three seasons in the NHL, Tom Kuhnhackl was the last to hit the scoring column, putting one over Casey DeSmith mideway through the 3rd period.

 

Playing with heavy hearts

 

With the city of Pittsburgh still reeling from the attack at Tree of Life Synagogue, in which a gunman opened fire while Sabbath services were taking place early Saturday, leaving 11 dead and wounding six, the Penguins were the last of the active sports teams in the city to play a home game since.

 

“A lot of different emotions going through our minds to start,” said Crosby, who joined the rest of his team in watching a touching tribute video to honor the victims and heroes of the Tree of Life Synagogue attack minutes before the game.

 

Crosby was involved in a ceremonial face off with Islanders' center Anders Lee and three first responders.

 

“Emotionally, I think everyone felt that. You try to recognize it and go out there and play as hard as you can and show your appreciation. I think everybody felt that.”

 

“We hurt like everybody else here,” said Matt Cullen, “this is our hometown and we all love Pittsburgh. It sure makes you think about family and what's important. We all feel for everybody involved.”

 

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz also had thoughts on the tragedy and the emotions felt in the building Tuesday night.

 

“There's just something about a city rallying around [itself] and this city is a special city,” Trotz said. “I watched news just like everybody else and it was absolutely cowardly what happened, you know, the whole tragedy. But this city is strong. It's a gorgeous city. The people are great and I know the healing process will start and they will rally around their sports teams and the community. My best wishes and my sympathy goes out to all the victims of this tragedy.”

 

After the moneyline

 

The Islanders cashed as heavy +190 underdogs. The Penguins (-220) are now 1-3 on the season when -200 or higher favorites.

 

The over went off at 6.5 goals, with that total clipping the over when Eberle punched in his second goal at the 13:49 mark of the 2nd period. The over is 5-4-1 on the season for the Pens. They have yet to play in a game with a closing O/U under six.

 

Up next

 

The Penguins will travel to New York to face the Islanders on Thursday. Puck drops at 7 PM.

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