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Barzal, Pelech lead Islanders to 4-1 win over Penguins
By VIN A. CHERWOO
NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders had fun again Tuesday night. Getting just their second win in the last month and beating the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions will do that.
Mathew Barzal and Adam Pelech scored in the first period and the Islanders went on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1. Anders Lee had a goal in the third period and Jordan Eberle added an empty-netter to help New York improve to 2-7-4 since Feb. 19.
"This feels good," Lee said. "It's nice to get a win. We knew we were going to come in and face a really good team that has a lot to play for and a division team we have big battles with. I thought we played a pretty good 60 minutes."
Christopher Gibson, pulled in his last start after giving up five goals on 12 shots against Washington last Thursday, stopped 36 shots and has both wins for New York during its recent stretch.
The Islanders were contending for a playoff spot until the last several weeks. However, they are now likely to miss the postseason for the second straight year as they trail New Jersey by double-digit points for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with nine games remaining.
"The last month we're obviously in a tough spot," Barzal said. "It could be a frustrating last 10 games here but winning is going to lift our spirits a little bit and hopefully we can make the best out of it."
Conor Sheary scored for Pittsburgh, which was 5-1-1 in its previous seven but fell four points behind first-place Washington in the tight Metropolitan Division. Columbus pulled into a tie with the Penguins for second at 87 points - Pittsburgh holds the tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets.
"We beat ourselves," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We didn't defend hard. We lacked discipline. We didn't have a good start."
Matt Murray, returning after missing nine games due to a concussion, finished with 36 saves for the Penguins.
Pittsburgh, playing for the first time since winning at Montreal last Thursday, came in with the NHL's best power play at 25.8 percent and went 0 for 1 against the Islanders - last in penalty-killing at 74.9 percent.
"We did a really good job of staying out of the box," New York coach Doug Weight said. "That fuels a lot of their momentum. ... They're so gifted at the man advantage. So I like that we were disciplined in that regard."
New York led 2-0 after one period until Sheary got Pittsburgh on the scoreboard late in the second. He took a pass across the slot from Phil Kessel and one-timed it past Gibson from the right circle for his 15th with 2:46 to go on the Penguins' 26th shot on goal.
Lee got a pass from Barzal and put it past Murray from the left side for his career-high 36th at 5:41 of the third to make it 3-1. Barzal's assist was his 55th, tying him with Nicklas Backstrom (2007-08) for the second-most by a rookie since 1995. Penguins star Sidney Crosby tops the list with 63 in 2005-06.
Eberle capped the scoring with his empty-net goal, his 25th, with 2 1/2 minutes to go.
Barzal got the Islanders on the board 5:10 into the game as he tipped a hard shot from the top of the right circle by Johnny Boychuk past Murray for his 20th.
"When you kind of creep around 15, 16, obviously 20 is a big number and a cool number," Barzal said. "It's nice to get, but at the end of the day I'm trying to grow as a player and I'm not really worrying about the numbers."
Riley Sheahan had a chance to tie it for the Penguins a little more than a minute later when he got the puck after Barzal fell down by his blue line. Sheahan skated in on Gibson, but the goalie denied his attempt from the left side.
Pelech made it 2-0 with 9:27 left in the opening period as he got a pass from Tanner Fritz and fired it past Murray from straightaway for his third.
NOTES: Crosby's 13-game point streak vs. the Islanders was snapped. He had nine goals and 14 assists against them during that stretch. ... Sheary got his third goal since Jan. 20, including two at Philadelphia on March 7. ... Pittsburgh fell short of its first season sweep against the Islanders. The Penguins won the first three meetings, including two in overtime. ... Islanders D Thomas Hickey played in his 400th career game. ... New York D Nick Leddy celebrated his 27th birthday.
Penguins: Host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night in the opener of three-game homestand.
Islanders: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night in the third game of a five-game homestand.
Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Updated March 20, 2018