UNIONDALE, N.Y. - A bitter playoff series between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins in the spring of 2013 has lent an extra air of intensity to every subsequent game between the two teams.
Now insert into the equation the Islanders' return to Nassau Coliseum, the loud site for three memorable games in that 2013 playoff clash? And New York coming off an emotional win over the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night and looking to redeem itself following a lopsided defeat to the Penguins in Pittsburgh Thursday? And with the game destined to decide which team resides in a playoff spot and which team does not by the end of the evening?
Add it all up and Islanders-Penguins should be more energized than most December games Monday night, when New York hosts Pittsburgh at Nassau Coliseum.
It will be the second of 21 games the Islanders are scheduled to play at their old home this season.
The teams are separated by just one point in the standings following Saturday's games, when the visiting Islanders came back from a two-goal deficit to edge the Red Wings, 3-2. The win vaulted New York into third place in the Metropolitan Division, just ahead of the Penguins, who fell to the host Ottawa Senators, 2-1, in overtime.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Islanders (14-11-3), who were outscored 9-3 in falling to the Winnipeg Jets and Penguins last Tuesday and Thursday. New York appeared headed for another defeat Saturday when it fell behind 2-0 in the first period before losing captain Anders Lee, who was bloodied by a blindside hit from Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall with 3:59 left in the period.
But Josh Bailey ignited the Islanders by knocking down Kronwall and then fighting Red Wings center Dylan Larkin fewer than three minutes later. Casey Cizikas and Ryan Pulock scored within the first seven minutes of the second period for New York before Matt Martin snapped the tie early in the third.
"It was a good response to Pittsburgh and Winnipeg," Lee told reporters afterward. "It's a character win."
The Penguins (12-10-6) felt they did enough to earn a win over the Senators, whom they outshot 36-29. But Pittsburgh had to settle for a point after Ottawa's Ryan Dzingel scored a power play 1:20 into overtime.
"I thought we dominated a lot of the game," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters afterward. "We just couldn't find a way to score more goals, but there was a lot to like about our effort tonight. I thought for the most part it was pretty solid."
Neither team practiced Sunday, so the identity of Monday's starting goalies won't be known until the morning skate. The Islanders could stick with Thomas Greiss, who has started seven of the last eight games and earned the win by recording 23 saves Saturday, or get number two goalie Robin Lehner back into the mix. Lehner missed two games with an undisclosed ailment before returning to backup Greiss on Saturday night.
The Penguins are likely to stick with fill-in number one goalie Casey DeSmith, who has started the last four games. DeSmith, who is starting in place of the injured Matt Murray, made 27 saves Saturday night.
Greiss is 4-2-0 in eight career games against the Penguins. Lehner is 2-3-2 in seven games against Pittsburgh. DeSmith is 1-0-0 in two career appearances against the Islanders.