Three reasons why the Islanders swept the Penguins
The New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in a shocking turn of events. It’s not shocking in the fact that the Islanders won. As Robin Lehner stated after a Game 3 win, “No it’s not a shock, we had 103 points in the regular season. We are a good team with a lot of high end skill”. It’s shocking in the nature they did it and how easily they were able to suck the life out of the Pens.
There are a ton of reasons why the Islanders won, from a complete team effort to some key players, but in my mind there are three specific reasons why the Islanders won the series in four games. If the Islanders had lost Game 1 or had not gotten timely goals, this could have been a completely difference series. But here we are with the Islanders advancing to play either the Carolina Hurricanes or the Washington Capitals.
They never gave up when down or tied
This sounds like such a simple concept but the Islanders never relented when they were down or gave up a lead or were tied. Part of that is their playoff style they played the entire season. Part of that is the championship pedigree. Part of that is the tight-knit group that’s come together in spite of the odds and the fact that everyone wrote them off all along the way.
The Penguins took a lead in Games 2-4, mostly early in the games, but were never able to get that next goal and subsequently gave the lead back almost immediately. They had an empty net for longer in the series than they had a lead, 5:55 for the empty net and 4:51 for the lead. Each time the Penguins scored, the Islanders (most of the time Jordan Eberle) came right back with a goal.
This kind of back and forth is deflating for a team trying to establish their game and the lead. Once the Islanders took the lead in Game 4 towards the end of the period, it was deja vu all over again. The Islanders never relented and kept pushing. The bench was never down and even when they gave up the lead with just 1:20 to go in regulation in Game 1, they came back in overtime to make it right.
Robin Lehner was excellent as usual
Robin Lehner didn’t make too many eye-popping saves but he made all the right ones in all the right moments. Lehner comes out of this with a 4-0-0 record and a .950 SV % on 136 shots. He stopped all but six goals and he and the Islanders’ PK kept the Pens to just one goal in 11 attempts. Lehner was a big reason for that, making saves all over the pace and never having any panic in his game.
Probably the best part about Lehner was his battle level all series. While Matt Murray struggled in the big moments, Lehner stood tall, both literally and figuratively. The goals given up weren’t soft in any way, shape or form. He battled in front of his net, even getting a slashing penalty during a brief scuffle with Patric Hornqvist.
Lehner stood tall and was the backbone of a great defensive effort by the Islanders. He gave up just one goal each of the last three games against the Penguins and many of those times the Pens had four future Hall of Famers on their line. Lehner didn’t get enough credit all series but he deserves it because he was an absolute stud.
The Islanders took the Penguins out of their game and set the perfect trap
We can talk about Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal all night long. We can talk about how Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey had clutch goals throughout the series. We’ve already talked about Lehner. However, the single most important thing the Islanders did during their series with the Penguins was completely take them off of their game.
Game 1 was a similar style to the way the Penguins like to play. A high-octane, booming offensive effort that still ultimately resulted in a loss. After Game 1, they got nothing and the Islanders slowly but surely sucked the life out of them. The forecheck was excellent. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech shut down the top line of the Penguins like they’ve never been shut down before. There was very little room to maneuver in the offensive zone for the Pens, something they thrive on.
The Islanders won this series because of the coaching of Barry Trotz and Co., the superb defensive effort from Jordan Eberle to Tom Kuhnhackl, and the excellent goaltending of Robin Lehner. The Islanders literally trapped the Penguins each time they got into the offensive zone. They trapped them into making bad passes. They trapped them into turning pucks over and getting odd-man rushes off of it. They did that all series long and that’s the reason why they won.
The Islanders took the first step in what is a four step process to win the coveted Stanley Cup. They won the first series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs without much fanfare and in a businesslike way. They did it all without much wear and tear, minus the injuries to Cal Clutterbuck and Johnny Boychuk.
The Islanders now will face either the Carolina Hurricanes or the Washington Capitals. The ideal situation? The other series goes seven full, hard fought games with some overtime mixed in. The Carolina Hurricanes win and give the Islanders a home-ice advantage, despite it being at Barclays Center.
Barclays Center is not Nassau Coliseum but it’s still the home of the Islanders. With Islanders fans everywhere, the team should be able to feed off the energy of the crowd. If the Islanders can continue to do what they did against Pittsburgh, and take it one game at a time, they’ll be successful at the next level.