The New York Islanders are in position to usher Pittsburgh out of the playoffs with barely a squeak from the Penguins.
The Islanders can complete a four-game sweep in their first-round playoff series with a win Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
It that’s a surprise — Pittsburgh was widely picked to win the series despite finishing one spot and three points behind the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division — it shouldn’t be, argued New York goaltender Robin Lehner.
“We got 103 points in the standings,” said Lehner, who has a 1.62 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage through three games. “The truth can’t be a surprise. Everyone looks and compares players and all that stuff. I look at our roster and see a really good organization and great coaching and great defensemen and a lot of heart. No one should be surprised.”
The Penguins have held a lead for just 3:17 in the series and have not scored consecutive goals.
“That’s been the story line the last two games,” said Jordan Eberle, who has three goals in three games for the Islanders. “They’ve scored, and we’ve come back. Playoffs are all about momentum.”
They also are about strategy, and New York has found a successful one.
“There’s not a lot of risk associated with the Islanders’ game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’ve got numbers back. They have a defense-first mentality. That’s been their identity all year. That’s what’s brought them success.”
Between the play of Lehner and a scheme orchestrated by coach Barry Trotz that puts the Islanders in spots to disrupt the Penguins at every turn, they have outscored Pittsburgh 11-5 and have forced mistakes and turnovers.
“The strategy is to stop everyone. There isn’t any focus on one particular guy,” Trotz said. “I think when you’re on the ice against anybody in the league, you take care of your business. I think we’ve been doing that.”
The Penguins are in backs-against-the-wall territory.
“Obviously, you don’t want to be down 3-0,” Pittsburgh winger Phil Kessel said. “It’s not good now.”
The Penguins have tried sitting Jack Johnson and Olli Maatta at different times with seven healthy defensemen available. They have juggled their line combinations. It hasn’t made a difference in the outcomes.
So they are taking about the only approach available to them.
“We’ve got to focus on one game. We can’t even it up in one game, but we can get ourselves back in it,” said Crosby, who has piled up 66 goals, 185 points in 163 career playoff games while captaining Pittsburgh to three Stanley Cups, as recently as 2017.
“We’ve got to focus on winning Game 4. We haven’t left ourselves a lot of room for error. All we can control is coming in with the right mindset for Game 4 and finding a way to get a win.”
The last time Pittsburgh was down 3-0 in a series, the Boston Bruins finished off a sweep in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. They did it in similar fashion — a smothering style that stymied the Penguins’ stars, and strong goaltending.
–Field Level Media