Seventh heaven within reach as upstart Isles stun Penguins


UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It no longer matters that the New York Islanders are considered inferior to the lordly Pittsburgh Penguins in every facet of the game.

There will be a nerve-racking, white-knuckle seventh and deciding game in the NHL Patrick Division finals, anyway.

And the Penguins, two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, found out last night that this young, depleted, underdog team is more than an upstart band of pests.

The Islanders moved within a victory of pulling off the most shocking upset of the playoffs with a 7-5 triumph over the Penguins at the charged-up Nassau Coliseum to tie this fascinating best-of-seven series at three games apiece.

Game 7 will be played tomorrow night in Pittsburgh to determine who plays Montreal beginning Sunday in the Wales Conference final. Islanders coach Al Arbour seemed to relish the thought.

"We're going there to win," Arbour said. "There are a lot of breaks in this game, so anything can happen in a seventh game. We're going there to make our breaks."

The Islanders won this game by showing no respect for the Penguins' superior speed and firepower and for Pittsburgh's superstar, Mario Lemieux.

Skating with a sense of desperation, the resilient Islanders got into a shootout, something they didn't want to do. Yet they won anyway as Brian Mullen and Steve Thomas scored within 4:50 of each other in the third period to give New York a 6-4 lead.

And they survived an anxious finish after Kevin Stevens brought Pittsburgh within 6-5 on a power play with 2:32 to go. Uwe Krupp ignited a jubilant celebration by firing into an open net with 18 seconds remaining.

"Hard work overcomes a lot of mistakes," Arbour said. "It's not typical that we run-and-gun with Pittsburgh, but apparently our team believes it can win any type of game."

Lemieux scored a goal and assisted on two others. But he took uncharacteristic punishment from defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, a fearless Lithuanian rookie who eschews the unwritten code that Lemieux can't be touched.

"Lemieux push me so I angry and push him back," said Kasparaitis, who makes himself quite clear with his halting English. "If I have chance to hit Lemieux two times, three times, four times, I hit him."

Kasparaitis was involved in a wild sequence during the second period. Climbing off the ice after Lemieux knocked him down with an apparent cross-check, Kasparaitis blasted Lemieux again and again before going off for roughing.

At the time, the Islanders were holding a 4-3 edge after goals by Ray Ferraro and Thomas.

With Kasparaitis watching from the penalty box, his right eyebrow stitched closed after Rick Tocchet caught him with his stick early in the period, Stevens tied the game at 4 with the first of his two power-play goals.

Undeterred, Kasparaitis flattened Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr in the third period in a flying collision.

"Two big hits by Darius, on Mario and Jagr, definitely helped us," Krupp said. "It got them looking over their shoulders for him."

The Islanders made it obvious from the opening faceoff of this, the most physical and fast-paced game of the series, that they were not going to lay back in a defensive shell.

Bad back notwithstanding, Lemieux was jostled, jabbed and knocked to the ice repeatedly.

After Tuesday's practice, Kasparaitis knocked over a pole in the Nassau Coliseum parking lot after backing into it with his black BMW. No one or nothing was safe from him.

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