Scoring six goals against a supremely shaky Marc-Andre Fleury, the Isles might also have planted some serious doubt within the Penguins' room about their starting goaltender.
The Islanders evened up the series at two games apiece on Tuesday.
Fleury has now given up 14 goals in four games this series, leading many to wonder whether veteran backup Tomas Vokoun will get the start in goal for Game 5 on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma declined to say who would start, but he didn’t rule out Vokoun as a possibility.
“We’re not going to talk about our starting goaltender for Game 5 right now,” Bylsma said.
It wasn’t just Fleury who gave up questionable goals -- Isles netminder Evgeni Nabokov has a few he’d probably like back as well -- in what turned out to be a wildly entertaining game between two teams trading scoring chances at a frenetic pace.
After seeing leads quickly evaporate in the first two periods, the Islanders rattled off three goals in the final frame. Captain Mark Streit, who finished with three points, tied the game at 3 with his second goal of the game early in the third, and superstar center John Tavares snapped a 4-4 draw to score what would hold up as the game-winner midway through the period.
Tavares stick handled his way to the doorstep and chased his own rebound to beat Fleury’s outstretched pad for a 5-4 lead at 10:11. Fourth-line sparkplug Casey Cizikas (1G, 2A, +4 rating) added an insurance goal with less than two minutes remaining -- the final display of Fleury’s frustrating night.
Before that bizarre play, in which he was out of position and slow to react to Cizikas cutting to the net, Fleury gave up a real softie to Kyle Okposo in the second period.
Okposo threw the puck at the net from behind the goal line and banked it in off Fleury’s pads at 18:36.
The handful of blunders was eerily reminiscent of last year’s meltdown in the first round of the playoffs, when Fleury surrendered a dizzying 26 goals over six games to the Philadelphia Flyers.
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“We know how he played last year against Philly, but we just want to go get traffic in front of him, get shots, shoot the puck,” Okposo said. “We didn’t shoot the puck enough in the second. We came out in the third, peppered him and got in his kitchen a little bit.”
Rugged forward Matt Martin said the team let Fleury off too easy in Game 1 when he recorded a 5-0 shutout. Since then, they’ve amped up the pressure.
“Game 1, we didn’t test him enough. He had a shutout. Luckily, Game 2 we were able to get some on him and since then, we’ve been able to capitalize on our opportunities,” Martin said. "I think if you take away any goalie’s confidence, it’s hard to make saves.”
By contrast, the Islanders confidence seems to be soaring after Game 4’s victory, one that ensures they’ll get another game at home in front of a raucous Nassau Coliseum crowd.
"Game 3 was heartbreaking and we found a way to put it behind us, so the nice thing is that we get another game at home here," Martin said. "The crowd’s been fantastic for us."
Even without top-pair defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who was forced from the game with an upper-body injury in the second period, the Islanders seem encouraged by their chances from here on out.
They’ll take momentum into Game 5 and the knowledge that these Penguins are a beatable team.
Although an inexperienced squad, the Islanders have matured, both from earlier this season and maybe even earlier this series, into one capable of managing the momentum swings and surges within a game.
“We put so much effort into getting here, there was no doubt we wanted to make the most of this opportunity," Tavares said. "We weren’t just satisfied being here. We believe in this room, obviously. ... There are a lot of guys stepping up for us here and that’s what we need.”