The New York Islanders magical season is continuing. New York is the second team moving on to the second round of the playoffs after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Islanders Sweep Penguins in First Round
The team that was suppose to near the bottom of the season coming into the season continue to surpass expectations. Maybe everyone should have saw this coming considering who was the bench boss. Barry Trotz was brought in to make the Islanders a better defensive and that is exactly what he did. Trotz had the Islanders playing playoff type hockey since the beginning of the season. He knew in order for this team to come together they must play as a unit not as individuals.
That play carried into the playoffs as the Islanders were the clearly the better team in the series. Prior the playoffs, the Islanders were fighting for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. New York finally clinched home ice in the final week of the regular season. With Nassau Coliseum being a smaller arena, the fans would going to play a huge role in the series.
That is exactly what happened in the first two games of the series. The Coliseum was rocking before the puck even dropped. And when the Islanders scored you felt the roof would come off the building. Even when the Penguins scored the fans were never out of the game. The Islanders style of play allows their fans to stay engaged.
The first game was a nail bitter as the Islanders took game in overtime. That would be the only game of the series that would go to overtime as the Islanders defense would not let another lead slip away. Once the Islanders got a lead, the defense would lock it down by playing a style similar to the 90s Devils neutral zone trap.
While the Islanders defense was superb, Robin Lehner was sensational for the Islanders in this series. In the big moments, Lehner came up with the big saves. He was the difference maker as he outplayed Matt Murray. Lehner was asked after the series was over if someone would have told him the Islanders would sweep the Penguins, he said, “Yes, because he believes in this team.”
Throughout the season it has been goal scoring by committee and that carried over to the playoffs. Jordan Eberle took over the series for the Islanders. Eberle recorded a goal in every game of the series and turned back the clocks to when he was playing for Canada in the World Juniors. His goals turned the tide in the final three games of the series.
Every time Pittsburgh would score, the Islanders would have an answer. The Penguins could not build on anything. The four game game sweep was a culmination of how inconsistent the Penguins were this season. As a matter of fact, Sidney Crosby was held without a goal in the series. He only had one point in the series. Give credit to Barry Trotz and the Islanders defense for shutting down the best player in the world.
Staying on Pittsburgh for a moment. This sweep has a feeling similar to when the Blackhawks lost to Predators in 2017. At that time, nobody knew that would be the beginning of the end of the dynasty. You got to imagine Jim Rutherford will make changes as his team was just not enough to win this season. All season the Penguins had to fight and claw their way up the standings just to finish in third place.
The salary cap might be finally catching up with the Penguins as it did with the Blackhawks. You have to wonder if one of the core pieces will be moving on this off-season. You can clearly see the Penguins are just a tad bit slower than their competition. Do not be surprised if this team looks a lot different next year.
As far as the Islanders go, they will wait the winner of the Washington-Carolina series. You have to wonder though will the Islanders lose their home ice advantage as the team will be playing at Barclays Center instead of Nassau Coliseum for the remainder of the playoffs. The atmosphere is just not the same.