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Islanders 3, Penguins 1 (EN): Never in Doubt

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The Penguins made it really interesting down the stretch, but the Islanders finished the job. This job, anyway. Sweep!

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins
Sealed it.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You knew the Penguins were going to come out swinging facing elimination in the form of an unlikely sweep.

But, perhaps even more so, you knew the Islanders weren’t going to let it get in the way of what they’re trying to do.

Break out the brooms, folks. The Islanders have swept the Penguins out of the playoffs and are moving on to the Second Round.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

Classic Start

The Pittsburgh crowd was rocking from puck drop and the Pens’ top line finally gave them something to cheer about, and only 35 seconds into the game. Sidney Crosby stripped the puck away from Adam Pelech in the corner and found Jake Guentzel sliding down from the point to roof it past Robin Lehner. His goal, and Crosby’s assist, were both players’ first points of the series.

But Jordan Eberle took away the Penguins’ lead for the second straight game, and again it was a short one. Less than two minutes after Guentzel’s goal, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle were sprung by Scott Mayfield for a two-on-one. They played catch before Eberle picked his corner and stunning Matt Murray.

Pittsburgh Holds Its Ground

The Penguins and their fans wouldn’t be stunted tonight like they were on Sunday afternoon. They continued to push and the crowd was behind them. They controlled the puck a bit more than the Isles in the first, but the Islanders did manage to keep the majority of Pittsburgh’s chances to the outside. The Islanders had a decent power play chance when the Penguins were called for too many men but didn’t convert. Meanwhile, the Penguins were given a man advantage because Barzal took a swing at Brian Dumoulin after Dumoulin gave a knocked-down Barzal four cross-checks to the skull, but Pittsburgh wasn’t allowed to get anything going and the boos began to rain down a little. Not to mention, the Islanders got a jump out of it, and used it to regain their game and a goal.

Forechecking To a Lead

From a clear, Tom Kuhnhackl battled behind the cage with Marcus Pettersson to free the puck from his grasp. Josh Bailey was the first one on it and skated to the corner as Brock Nelson made his way to the front of the net. Bailey fired immediately toward Nelson and he corralled it on his forehand, beating Murray over the blocker to put the Islanders on top to end the first period.

The Islanders mostly played their game in the first, even though the Penguins had the better of the shot counter. The high danger chances and expected goals belonged to New York after one, as did the scoreboard.

Penguins on Their Game

Pittsburgh’s desperation seeped into their play in the second period, at least according to my eyes. They started leaving it all out on the ice and pulled out all the stops they could think of.

Still, though, the Islanders played decently. They contained the Pens enough to limit some of their chances and still kept them to the outside a bit, while also managing to create a few of their own chances. They were given a power play when Patric Hornqvist exchanged jabs with Lehner. Both gentlemen were given minors, but I believe Hornqvist earned himself an extra one — Hornqvist was clutching and grabbing all night.

However, none of the Penguins’ chances resulted in a goal and the Islanders entered the final period up 2-1. Unfortunately, Eberle, Johnny Boychuk, and Cal Clutterbuck, left the ice with injuries. Eberle returned for the third, but the other two did not take another shift.

On the Edge of My Seat

The Penguins tried their damnedest to keep the game alive. There were a few times in the early part of the third period that the Islanders were able to play their style, but for the most part, the Pens drew them into a track meet. That being said, what the Islanders continued to do well was keep the puck away from high-danger areas.

Of course, the Penguins had a couple of them. They’re still the Penguins. But of the many shots the Penguins did throw toward the net, most were from beyond the dots and there were a few times where they set up a nice rush, only to get one-and-done’d by the depleted Islanders defenders.

Over the final three minutes, the Penguins rolled their strongest offensive players and had a few frightening chances to tie the game, looking like they were a man up even before pulling Murray for the extra attacker. After some extended zone time was halted by an Islanders icing, the Penguins called timeout before sending out the wrecking crew of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, and Justin Schultz with 42 seconds remaining. The Islanders won the anticipated face-off, Josh Bailey wrangled the puck, and fired a lob toward the empty net.

Goal. 3-1. Game, set, and match, the Islanders are moving on.

Thoughts and Feelings

I said going into this round that this series was going to be a tough one. I thought the Islanders had a chance, and picked them in 7 in my bracket, but wouldn’t have been surprised if the Penguins moved on. They’re the Penguins, after all. Honestly, I probably would’ve have laughed it off if you came from the future to tell me they’d sweep them. What a series, what a way to move on.

Credit to Robin Lehner and his .956 save percentage, and credit to the team defense in front of him that didn’t make his job all that hard. The Islanders defenders, for the most part, shut down all the weapons on the Penguins, and there are many.

Credit to Jordan Eberle, who scored in every game of the sweep and added two assists. Credit to Mathew Barzal, who had five assists in his first four career playoff games. Credit to Josh Bailey, who has come on strong through this series with timely goals, including Game 1’s OT winner, and credit to Brock Nelson, who got the game-winner in half the wins.

And, of course, credit to Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert, John Gruden, Mitch Korn, Piero Greco, and even Scott Gomez. Their preparation was superb, and it showed in their players’ structure, discipline, and forecheck. They also capitalized excellently on the chances they forced.

We’re not done, folks.

Up Next

Hell no, we’re not done. But, we’ve got some time to kill. The Islanders will have at least a week and a half off, as the last day of the First Round will be next Wednesday, the 24th. Even if none of the series go 7 games, the NHL usually holds tight to their schedule. But that’s okay: the Islanders’ style of play isn’t hurt by time off — if anything, it should help. Not to mention, there a few guys banged up that could use some extra time to heal and rest.

The Second Round will likely start the weekend of the 26th, and the Islanders will take on the winner of the Capitals-Hurricanes series. Washington leads the series 2-1 over Carolina. Their on-ice competition was pretty even through the first two games in D.C., but the Caps got the results they wanted in both. The ‘Canes utterly dominated last night back in Raleigh, though, so it will be interesting to see how much more they can muster. Hopefully, they go the distance and beat the ever-living shit out of each other.