The New York Islanders did the unexpected last night and eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins and 2017 Stanley Cup winners in four back-to-back games, and after a solid regular season, they are now heading to round two of the playoffs.
Josh Bailey scored one goal and earned an assist in a night that saw Robin Lehner stopping 32 shots. Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson also scored and Matthew Barzal, Valtteri Flippula, and Scott Mayfield earned assists. It was enough to see the Pittsburgh Penguins leave the series before it even started failing to be relevant to the dismay of Pittsburgh fans, who littered the PPG Paints Arena in a somber mood.
The opening goal by Brock Nelson in the first period came after being set up by Josh Bailey and with the Penguins facing elimination, Mike Sullivan pulled Matt Murray only to watch as Josh Bailey scored on an open net sealing their fate. The New York Islanders dominated the series from beginning to end winning Game 1 of the series and only were behind five minutes across all four games.
It was the 13th straight post-season playoffs for the Penguins and one that ended quietly. In the four games they only managed to score six goals with Captain Sydney Crosby seemingly resigned at what lay ahead. Maybe it was lack of will, maybe lack of skill.
The New York Islanders were near the top of the league all season allowing in the least number of goals of any team in the league during the regular season. The twelve periods of hockey in the first round showed that Barry Trotz’s leadership has made a difference, and it appears he may repeat the success he had while coaching last year’s winners, the Washington Capitals.
This is the first time in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins that they have made the playoffs and get eliminated in the first round. Coach Mike Sullivan joked with reporters that he felt Pittsburgh could pick itself up it began “playing the right way” but clearly, they missed that news conference.
Pittsburgh was hoping to win its third Stanley Cup in four years and at times appeared they were on the cusp of bouncing back last night. Jake Guentzel scored the opening goal less than 40 seconds into the first period ripping a shot past Robin Lehner to put Pittsburgh ahead 1-0 much to the sold out crowds enthusiasm, unfortunately for Pittsburgh, that enthusiasm died quickly.
The Islanders responded almost right away, as they have throughout the series. After Kris Letang failed to send the puck into the Islanders zone, it gave Jordan Eberle and Matthew Barzal a 2-on-1 that saw Eberle put a wrist shot in the top right corner to tie the game 1-1.
That seem to fuel the Islanders as they stayed steady and focused on keeping it simple, sticking to the basics. The regular season was there best in 35 years and they achieved it by reducing the number of changes and relying on the proven system of Barry Trotz, one that pushed patience and pragmatism.
New York went ahead 2-1 with just under two minutes remaining in the first after Brock Nelson drove hard towards the net after slipping by Garrett Wilson and flashing fast by Matt Murray while he flicked off a shot into the net past Murray’s pads.
As the third period’s final minutes played out, Mike Sullivan called Matt Murray to the bench in a last ditch effort to tie the game but a hard driving New York turned the tables scoring on an open net to end the night 3-1, and with it, take the series in four games.