PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby picked up the touch pass from Jarome Iginla near center ice and sprinted toward the New York Islanders’ net.
Broken jaw or no broken jaw, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain had only one destination in mind. It hardly mattered three Islanders — defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov — were in the way.
A handful of powerful strides, a little tap to keep the puck out of danger and one wicked wrist shot later, Crosby was in the corner celebrating and the Islanders were reeling.
Crosby’s eye-popping goal provided the exclamation point in a 4-0 win in Game 5 on Thursday night as the Penguins took a 3-2 series lead.
In typical Crosby fashion, he downplayed the brilliance of his third goal of the playoffs. When someone pointed out it was reminiscent of a similar play by Hall of Famer and Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux against the Islanders 25 years ago — a moment frozen in time with a statue outside the Consol Energy Center — Crosby just laughed.
“His was much nicer than mine,” Crosby said. “He went through guys and stickhandled through them and stickhandled around the goalie, too. I had a few less moves and a pretty basic shot, but I’ll take the goal anytime it goes in.”
So will the Penguins, who restored order to the series behind Crosby, backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun and seldom-used forward Tyler Kennedy.
Vokoun stopped 31 shots in his first playoff start in six years while Kennedy broke a scoreless tie with a breakaway goal 7:25 into the second period, validating coach Dan Bylsma’s decision to insert him into the lineup for the first time in the postseason.
“Whenever you score a goal it helps your confidence; but I’m just focused on helping the team,” Kennedy said. “If it’s scoring a goal that’s fine. If it’s making a hit or whatever or keeping it simple, I’m just trying to help the team win right now.”
Doug Murray and Kris Letang also scored for Pittsburgh, who chased New York goaltender Evgeni Nabokov after Letang’s goal made it 4-0 early in the third period. Nabokov spent the final 14-plus minutes on the bench wondering what awaits back on Long Island.
So will the rest of the Islanders, who saw their momentum come to a screeching halt.
“We’ve got to make it tough on them,” New York forward John Tavares said. “We didn’t do that enough tonight.”
Certainly not against Vokoun, thrust into the lineup after Bylsma benched Marc-Andre Fleury, who had started 79 straight postseason games but struggled in a 6-4 loss in Game 4. The 36-year-old Vokoun didn’t look intimidated by the stage as the Penguins restored a little order to a wide-open series.
The eighth-seeded Islanders looked like the better team through much of the first four games, using their speed to keep the talented but somewhat plodding top-seeded Penguins on their heels.
Bylsma’s biggest change was inserting Vokoun in place of Fleury, but he also scratched defenseman Mark Eaton and forwards Jussi Jokinen and Tanner Glass in favor of younger, quicker skaters Simon Despres, Joe Vitale and Kennedy.
The moves paid off handsomely.
New York controlled play for most of a scoreless first period before Kennedy — squeezed out of the rotation by the influx of veterans brought in at the trade deadline — broke through in the second period.
The play began innocently enough in Pittsburgh’s end before Letang hit Kennedy with a sizzling 80-foot stretch pass right up the middle of the ice. Kennedy greedily accepted the puck at New York’s blue line, then flipped a wrist shot over Nabokov’s glove to give the Penguins the lead.
The score seemed to rattle Nabokov. Murray loped in a lazy wrist shot from the point that Nabokov tried to glove only to have the puck slip out of his left hand, over his back and into the net. Crosby followed with his dance through the New York zone and the game was effectively over.
The Islanders, trying to make it out of the first round for the first time in 20 years, find themselves trailing once again. They’ve answered each time they’ve fallen behind in this series. Despite getting outplayed on Thursday, they know things will start 0-0 on Saturday.
“For us it’s two Game 7s right now starting on Saturday,” New York defenseman Mark Streit said. “We’ve just got to concentrate on our game, what brought us in this situation and what makes us successful. We know we have it in the room. We’re a confident group.”
NOTES: New York played without D Andrew MacDonald, who is dealing with an upper body injury. The Islanders also scratched F Marty Reasoner and D Matt Carkner among others … Kennedy’s goal was his sixth winning goal in the postseason, sixth most in Pittsburgh history.