Tavares helps Islanders get past Pens in shootout

Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust (17) collides with New York Islanders' Travis Hamonic (3) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Embattled goaltender Jaroslav Halak is glad to be back and contributing to the New York Islanders’ run to the playoffs.

Halak, after spending time in the American Hockey League, won for the first time since December when John Tavares scored in the shootout to lead the Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

“Anytime you win a game, it’s always great,” Halak said. “I think it’s more special right now after being called up and playing my first game right now in this late stage of the season.”

Anthony Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

“(Halak) was called on to make some big saves, especially in the shootout,” Tavares said. “It was good to have him back and great to see him come up and get rewarded.”

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders were last in the conference at one point, but now they have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, is back in the fold after making 37 saves on Friday. He got the nod one day after he was recalled from Bridgeport.

“He looked like Halak when we signed him two years ago,” Weight said. “He got some things straightened out, he looked confident, he looked aggressive and I think the guys fed off it.”

Crosby extended his NHL lead with his 42nd goal. He is five points behind Edmonton forward Connor McDavid for the NHL scoring lead.

Cameron Gaunce scored his first with the Penguins and second of his career. Matt Cullen scored his 11th for the Penguins, who missed out on an opportunity to pull even with the Washington Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh, with eight wins in its last 12 games, is one point behind the Capitals and two ahead of Columbus for third place. Fleury made 43 saves.

Cullen tied the game with 6:10 to play. He converted the rebound past Halak after Gaunce’s drive to the net.

“This was a tough game and I thought we fought hard,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “The Islanders are a good team and they’re playing really well right now.”

The Islanders hit three posts in the first period and had a goal waived off as time expired.

Nelson scored for the Islanders, but the goal was disallowed following Pittsburgh’s challenge for goaltender interference.

Nelson scored again in the second period and this one counted. Nelson tied the game after Gaunce opened the scoring early in the period for Pittsburgh.

Lee gave the Islanders the lead later in the period, a goal that was upheld after Pittsburgh challenged for offsides. Tavares recorded his 300th NHL assist and Josh Bailey his 300th point on the goal.

Crosby’s goal tied it, but Cizikas gave the Islanders the lead, scoring with 4.5 seconds left in the second period. Tavares stripped Chad Ruhwedel of the puck in the defensive zone and set up Cizikas for the goal.

Halak sealed the Islanders’ victory in the shootout.

“It was a great win for us and a great win for him,” Weight said. “I’m proud of him and the way he handled everything.”

NOTES: Penguins F Nick Bonino played in his 400th NHL game. … Islanders F Ryan Strome is out three to six weeks with an upper-body injury. Strome, who left Wednesday’s win against the New York Rangers, has 13 goals and 30 points in 69 games. … Islanders D Johnny Boychuk missed his 10th straight game with a lower-body injury.


Islanders: Host Boston on Saturday.

Penguins: Welcome Philadelphia on Sunday.