Islanders are unrivaled after sweeping Penguins

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Islanders are unrivaled after sweeping Penguins

The New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins now have a rivalry as intense as any in the NHL, and a pair of Islanders victories over two days only turned up the heat more.

Anders Lee scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves and the Islanders beat the Penguins, 4-1, Saturday night to sweep a home-and-home series.

Lee’s third goal of the season at 2:38 came on a tip-in of Lubomir Visnovsky’s slap shot that got past backup goalie Thomas Greiss. Brock Nelson added a power-play goal at 9:47 - his team-leading 10th - and Islanders captain John Tavares closed the scoring with his eighth of the season at 15:46.

“Our execution was really good, we are playing the right way,’’ Tavares said after the Islanders won for the eighth time in nine games.

New York tied it 1-1 in the second period on a goal by Matt Martin.

The Islanders and Penguins - heated rivals since they met in the 2013 playoffs - played to a 5-4 shootout victory by New York on Friday.

“Certainly, the rivalry is right up there with the Rangers,’’ added Tavares, who scored for the second time in eight games. “It’s exciting for us and for our fans.’’

The resurgent Islanders (14-6), who finished last in the Metropolitan Division last season, saw Halak win his sixth straight start. The veteran who joined New York as a free agent last summer allowed just eight goals in those games.

“We made high percentage plays and did a good job of matching their speed,’’ Islanders Coach Jack Capuano said. “We managed the puck well, and we played a smart game.’’

New York tied Pittsburgh atop the division with 28 points, though the Penguins (13-4-2) have played one fewer game.

“We didn’t have a good third period, and they raised their game,’’ said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “They were more intense than we were in the back-to-back.’’

Fans at Nassau Coliseum chanted “First place, first place’’ in the closing minutes. The Islanders are off to their best start since the 1987-88 season.

The Penguins had won seven of eight on Long Island.

Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead with his eighth goal 16:49 in when his shot was stopped by Halak, but dribbled into the net. Malkin’s new linemates - Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spaling - assisted. Both were acquired in a trade with Nashville last summer.

Martin’s second goal of the season and second in two nights came as the Islanders’ fourth line continued to contribute strong minutes.AP

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