Penguins vs. Islanders: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview

For the second time in three years the Penguins and Islanders are meeting in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Back in 2019 the Islanders stunned the Penguins in a four-game sweep.

During the past couple of years these two teams have experienced very different levels of success in the postseason. The Penguins have lost three consecutive playoff series, and including the play-in round of the 2020 bubble are just 3-11 in their past 14 playoff games. The Islanders, meanwhile, have found more postseason success over the past two years than they did in the 20 years that preceded them.

Do the Islanders have another surprising postseason run in them? Or can the Penguins get back to their winning ways in the playoffs and have another Stanley Cup run in them for the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang era?

We will find out starting on Sunday.

PENGUINS VS. ISLANDERS series livestream link

Sunday, May 16: Islanders at Penguins, 12 p.m. ET (NBC)
Tuesday, May 18: Islanders at Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Thursday, May 20: Penguins at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Saturday, May 22: Penguins at Islanders, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Monday, May 24: Islanders at Penguins TBD
*Wednesday, May 26: Penguins at Islanders TBD
*Friday, May 28: Islanders at Penguins TBD

Penguins – Islanders Storylines

The Penguins’ depth is as good as it has been in years

This is not just the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin show in Pittsburgh this season. Thanks in part to the breakout season of Jared McCann, as well as the trade deadline acquisition of Jeff Carter, the Penguins are again capable of rolling four lines that can significantly impact the game offensively.

The most telling sign for that is how well the Penguins have played when their top two superstars are not on the ice.

When neither Crosby or Malkin is on the ice this season during 5-on-5 play the Penguins score goals at a nearly identical rate as they do with them on the ice. With Crosby they average 2.75 goals per 60 minutes. With Malkin they average 2.72 goals per 60 minutes. When neither are on the ice they average 2.74 goals per 60 minutes. They also have a plus-18 goal differential when neither Crosby or Malkin is on the ice, that is by far the best number the Penguins have had over the past 15 years (before this season they were never better than plus-eight in those situations).

Can the Islanders flip the switch again?

Going into the 2020 playoff bubble the Islanders were mired in a terrible slump that had seen them lose seven games in a row and 18 out of 26 games. They were a team trending in the wrong direction and did not seem to have what it was going to take for any kind of a serious run.

Then they ended up going to the Eastern Conference Final after cruising through Florida (Stanley Cup Qualifier) and Washington (First Round) and winning a Game 7 against Philadelphia (Second Round).

This year they go into the playoffs having lost 10 of their previous 16 games and again looking like a team trending in the wrong direction.

Can they flip that switch again when the games really count to make another run?

There are two things working against them this season: The first is that the 2020 playoff bubble came after a four month lay-off when every other team was also off, so it was almost like a new season starting. The second is they do not have one of their top players in captain Anders Lee who remains out for the rest of the season.

Semyon Varlamov‘s status

The Islanders remain confident that Varlamov will be ready to go for the playoffs, but his situation is still something worth monitoring. He exited the Islanders’ regular season finale after two periods and has not returned to practice since. While Ilya Sorokin is the future of the position and a potential star, Varlamov has been the Islanders’ best goalie this season and is the only one with NHL playoff experience.

Evgeni Malkin’s health

Injuries have been a constant issue for the Penguins all season, and Malkin has been at the top of the list.

He returned over the final four games of the regular season but was injured in the Penguins’ regular season finale against Buffalo when he was involved in a center ice collision. The Penguins are insisting that he is okay and will be ready for the series. But it is still something worth watching given his importance and impact. Even though the 2020-21 season has not been one of his best, he can still be a difference-maker offensively and when he is in the lineup the Penguins’ center depth with Crosby, Malkin, Carter, and Teddy Blueger is as good as any other team in the NHL right now.

One big question for Pittsburgh: The goaltending

Goaltending is always the X-factor come playoff time, and that is especially going to be true for the Penguins.

Their forwards look great. Their defense is solid. But the goaltending has been the one question mark all season due to the inexperience of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, as well as some inconsistent play at times. They are also both nursing minor injuries that kept them out of the lineup for the regular season finale. Both are expected to be ready for the start of the series.

Jarry is the starter, but has only played one playoff game in his career. He had a miserable start to the season, rebounded nicely in the middle of the season, but has slumped a little during the stretch run.

With Semyon Varlamov (assuming he is healthy) and Ilya Sorokin at the other end of the ice the goaltending situation could be a huge difference-maker here.

One big question for New York: Can they find enough offense?

This always seems to be the question with this team. It is a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and once you get beyond Mathew Barzal there is not a ton of star power here.

It is not that they are lacking in talent (that is definitely not the case), they just do not have a lot of impact players.

Jordan Eberle has owned the Penguins since joining the Islanders. Oliver Wahlstrom is a promising young talent that has shown flashes of being a top-line performer. Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are all legit top-six players. But it is simply not a team that plays a high-scoring brand of hockey. Yes, defense and goaltending win at this time of year. But you also need to score some goals.

There are only two teams in this year’s playoff field that rank worse than 16th in goals per game (Islanders and Nashville), with the Islanders’ 2.72 goals per game sitting at 20th in the league. They are only one of two playoff teams that average less than 2.80 goals per game. Even more concerning is the fact they are averaging just 2.40 goals per game since April 1 (a span of 20 games), which places them 26th in the league during that stretch.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

The Penguins are very familiar with Barry Trotz coached teams in the playoffs (this is the fifth time in six years they have faced each other in the playoffs) and it is always a tough matchup. The Islanders are perfectly capable of winning this given their defense and goaltending (not to mention the uncertainty of Pittsburgh’s goaltending) but the Penguins’ star power and forward depth is going to be a lot for the Islanders to match in this series.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Stars sign Hintz to $67.6M, 8-year extension through 2030-31

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    FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Stars have signed center Roope Hintz, a nearly point-a-game player in the prime of his career, to a $67.6 million, eight-year contract extension.

    “He brings so much to us,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said Tuesday. “He realizes now who he is. He came into the league three, four years ago finding his way. He started out probably as the third-line center man and very responsible, and all of a sudden he’s groomed into this No. 1 center man. You can just see the confidence that he has now.”

    The 26-year-old Hintz has 88 goals and 106 assists in his 261 games over five seasons, all with Dallas, including 139 points in 142 games since the start of the 2020-21 season.

    The Finland native set career highs with 37 goals and 35 assists last season, and has eight goals and 16 assists in 22 games this season for the Central Division-leading Stars.

    The extension takes effect after the end of this season, when Hintz could have become a restricted free agent. It goes through the 2030-31 season and has an average value of $8.45 million.

    “We wanted to do something quick if we could. We didn’t want this to drag on. It’s not easy for players during the season to live through negotiations,” Nill said. “He’s a 6-foot-3, No. 1 center man in the NHL that can skate well and has got great skills and is putting up big points, so he’s a high-demand player. He’s a hard player to find.”

    The Hintz contract is identical to the one defenseman Miro Heiskanen signed before last season. Before this season, the Stars signed restricted free agent Jason Robertson a $31 million, four-year deal, and goaltender Jake Oettinger to a $12 million, three-year deal. All three of those players are 23 years old. Robertson, a 41-goal scorer last season, leads the NHL with 19 goals in 23 games this season, and also has 17 assists.

    “We now have our core signed up,” Nill said. “Trying to get this core together, keep it together for as many years as we can, and that’s why we made this move now.”

    Devils rally from two goals down to beat Rangers 5-3

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    NEW YORK – Jack Hughes and Michael McLeod scored in the second period, Vitek Vanecek stopped 35 shots and the surging New Jersey Devils rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the New York Rangers 5-3 on Monday night.

    Yegor Sharangovich had two goals and Tomas Tatar also scored to help the first-place Devils win their third straight since having their 13-game winning streak snapped last week. New Jersey has won 10 straight road games and has only one loss since starting the season 3-3-0.

    The Rangers raced to a 2-0 lead just three minutes into the contest but the Devils scored twice to tie it later in the first period to tie it and then scored twice in the second period to take the lead.

    “We stayed with our game. There was a calmness on the bench,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said of his team’s early deficit. “All I said on the bench was ‘let’s get the next goal and we’ll be back in the game.”‘

    Vanecek improved to 11-2-0 as scattered chants of “Let’s Go Devils” were heard at Madison Square Garden.

    The Devils have made the playoffs only once – in 2018 – since beating the Rangers in six games in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

    “It was great to hear the fans here on our side,” Devils forward Miles Wood said. “We can’t thank them enough.”

    Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck scored and Chris Kreider had two assists for the Rangers, who fell to 4-5-3 at home. Igor Shesterkin had 33 saves.

    New York also lost its second straight at home in a disheartening fashion. The Rangers squandered a 3-0 third-period lead against Edmonton on Saturday to lose 4-3. Last season, they won 27 of 41 games at the Garden.

    “When one thing goes wrong it starts to snowball on us,” Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. “We keep saying we have to play a full 60. You can’t keep talking about it, you have to go out and do it.”

    Rangers coach Gerard Gallant credited the young and hungry Devils with playing a superior game.

    “They put lots of offense at you, they play fast and they showed that,” Gallant said. “Tonight they were the better team.”

    Tatar narrowed the deficit to 2-1 at 7:31 of the first with a nifty high backhand shot past Shesterkin for his sixth of the season. Jesper Bratt had an assist on the play, giving him a point in 18 for the Devils’ 23 games this season.

    Sharangovich tied it with an unassisted goal with 6:35 left in the first.

    Hughes put the Devils ahead at 5:44 of the second after he gained a stride on Lindgren before sliding the puck past Shesterkin for his 12th of the season and fourth in the last two games.

    McLeod made it 4-2 at 9:40 with his third goal after Wood hit the crossbar behind Shesterkin.

    “I have to play better,” said , who was also in goal for Saturday’s meltdown against Edmonton and has lost three of his last five games.

    It was the fourth time in their last six games the Devils scored at least four times and New Jersey improved to 9-0-0 when the 21-year-old Hughes – the top overall pick by the Devils in the 2019 draft – has a goal.

    Trocheck scored his eighth goal on the power play for the Rangers with 6:42 left in the third to pull within one, but Sharangovich added an empty-netter with 16 seconds remaining to seal the win.

    The Devils improved a franchise-best 13-1-0 in November and an NHL-best 16-0-0 when leading after two periods.

    “It’s fun playing here,” Hischier said. “It feels great to beat the Rangers,?

    Panarin scored 1:20 into the game to end a personal 12-game goal-scoring drought with his sixth of the season and first since Oct. 30 at Arizona.

    Zibanejad made it 2-0 at 3:01 with his team-best 11th of the season.

    UP NEXT

    Devils: Host Nashville on Thursday night.

    Rangers: At Ottawa on Wednesday night.

    Stamkos lifts Lightning past Sabres 6-5 in OT

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. – Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the game 2:44 into overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 6-5 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

    Brayden Point also had two goals, Brandon Hagel had a goal and an assist, and Corey Perry also scored for the Lightning, who rallied from two goals down in the third period to force overtime. Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev each had three assists, and Stamkos added one for a three-point night.

    Brian Elliott had 32 saves to get the win.

    “We got the breaks at the end to pull us back, some big-time players got us back into it,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.

    Tage Thompson had a goal and an assist, and Tyson Jost, Jeff Skinner, Jack Quinn and Dylan Cozens also scored for Buffalo. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 19 saves.

    “You allow good players a little bit of extra time and a little bit of extra space, they’re going to make plays on you,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We had hesitation in our game and it was only the last 10 minutes.”

    In the extra period, Stamkos got the winner on a blast from the right circle for his 12th of the season.

    “There’s going to be games where we don’t deserve the two points and tonight was probably one of those, but we’ve been on the other side of that too,” Stamkos said.

    With the score tied at 3-3 to open the third period, the Sabres appeared to take control in the third with two goals for a 5-3 lead with a little more than 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

    Cozens put Buffalo ahead at 9:37, ripping a shot from the right circle under the crossbar and beating Elliott on the glove side. Skinner made it 5-3 with 5:41 remaining, finishing from a tight angle after an odd-man rush was initially stopped.

    However, the Lightning answered back with two goals 3 1/2 minutes apart.

    Stamkos scored just 16 seconds after Skinner’s goal to get the Lightning within one. Hagel tied it with a power-play goal with 2:02 remaining. With Elliott pulled to create a 6-on-4 advantage, Kucherov’s shot from the right circle was deflected by Hagel past Luukkonen.

    Point opened the scoring 7:54 into the game with a power-play goal from close range for his ninth.

    Perry made it 2-0 with 3:12 left in the first off a cross-ice pass from Stamkos.

    Thompson put Buffalo on the board with 2:06 left in the first, beating Elliott with some nifty stick-handling after forcing a turnover in front of the Tampa net.

    Quinn evened it 59 seconds later, finishing a nice feed from JJ Peterka on a quick offensive rush.

    Jost gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead midway through the second period, scoring his first goal with the Sabres after he was acquired off waivers from Minnesota on Nov. 19.

    Point tied it 3-3 on the power play with 3:34 left in the second after getting a pass from Kucherov.

    INJURY RETURNS

    Each team had one player return from a recent injury. Sabres center Rasmus Asplund returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Tampa Bay forward Cole Koepke returned after missing three games with an upper-body injury.

    UP NEXT

    Lightning: At Boston on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: At Detroit on Wednesday night.

    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

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    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: At Vancouver.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers.