In yet another First Round shocker, the New York Islanders have swept the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the first time the Penguins have been swept since 2013. That year, the Boston Bruins swept Pittsburgh during the Eastern Conference Final. It’s also the first time the Penguins haven’t won a single playoff game since Sidney Crosby‘s rookie season (2005-2006).
For the Islanders, it was their first playoff series sweep since 1983 and first playoff series win since the 2015-2016 season. The Islanders rode the back of goaltender Robin Lehner who had never won a playoff game prior to this year. Let’s take a look at how the series ended so quickly for both teams.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders Series Review
Robin Lehner outduels Matt Murray
This isn’t a stab at Matt Murray, who played fantastically in this series even if the numbers don’t reflect it. Murray gave the Penguins a chance in each game. But Robin Lehner was outstanding for the Islanders. He gave up just three goals in the last three games of the series and finished with a save percentage of .956. No team is going to lose a playoff series with that good of goaltending.
Going into the series, Lehner was one of the biggest reasons that the Islanders were in the playoffs, to begin with. He backed up a great regular season with an even better post-season. He didn’t allow a single bad goal. Each time the Penguins would make a push to tie the game or take the lead, Lehner would be right there to shut them down. This was made known right away when Lehner shut down Crosby just 30 seconds into Game One’s overtime. The save helped New York get the game-winner just a few minutes later. Lehner faced 44 shots total during Game One, the most of any game in the series, and was able to save all but one. Overall, he allowed just six goals in four games.
Lehner was nothing short of outstanding against the Penguins. He will need to stay dominant going into the second round, where the Islanders could play either the Washington Capitals or the Carolina Hurricanes.
Islanders structure caused Pittsburgh fits
The Penguins didn’t seem comfortable against the Islanders throughout the entire series. There were countless turnovers at the blueline that led to odd-man rushes that turned into goals. There also were countless times where the Penguins passed up a good shooting opportunity, instead looking for the perfect play.
New York also did an excellent job of keeping Pittsburgh to the outside for most of their shots. This was the biggest reason why Crosby and Evgeni Malkin couldn’t generate anything, whether it was even-strength or on the man-advantage. The Islanders would always have numbers back on them and, most times, the Penguins wouldn’t be able to mount anything in the offensive zone.
A lot of the credit goes to Barry Trotz, who will be a strong candidate for coach of the year. He has implemented the same defensive system that he had with the Capitals and every player has bought into it. Because of their structure, New York was able to hold Crosby goalless for the series and without a point until Game Four. It was Crosby’s first time not having a point in the first three games of a series since the 2016 Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks.
New York was also able to hold Jake Guentzel, Malkin, and Phil Kessel to just three combined goals in the four games. This was very surprising considering Pittsburgh’s normal high-scoring nature. During the regular season, no team was able to limit the Penguins scoring, as they went on to place sixth in the league in goals-for. This clearly changed and round one was a defensive clinic for the Islanders. New York’s defense will surely cause a lot of issues for the next team they face as well.
Pittsburgh wasn’t fast or clean enough
The Penguins won their Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 on speed and skill. They were the fastest team in the league both seasons and it showed. In this playoff run though, they didn’t look nearly as fast. They weren’t getting to loose pucks like they used to do, they kept turning the puck over, and, most of all, they were giving up an alarming amount of odd-man rushes. A lot of the Islanders goals in this series came on 2-on-1’s. The Penguins simply weren’t fast enough backchecking and were careless with the puck through the whole series.
It all started back in Game One’s overtime when Kris Letang went into the offensive zone. He was the sole attacker, with the rest of the Penguins going for a line change. Letang turned the puck over, leading to an Islanders odd-man rush going the other way. The turnover resulted in Josh Bailey netting the overtime winner as all of the Penguins were completely out of position:
A similar situation happened in game two with the opening Islanders goal just after the Penguins took the lead and in game three as well. Justin Schultz tried to do a bit too much, pinching at the wrong time, in Game Three which resulted in Brock Nelson‘s game-winning goal on yet another odd-man rush:
In the End
Pittsburgh just didn’t defend well enough and they didn’t take care of the puck as well as in the latter parts of the regular season. A lot of old habits from the beginning of the season showed up and it led to the Penguins demise. With that, there expects to be a decent amount of change for Pittsburgh heading into the offseason.
As for New York, they become the second team to move on to the second round. They make a big statement with this round one win, proving they have what it takes to take down the dominant Penguins. Stars like Jordan Eberle and Robin Lehner led the pack with unbelievable performances against Pittsburgh. While the Islanders have had a very well-rounded lineup, they’ll need these stars to continue their prowess moving forward. If they can, the Islanders are a force to be reckoned with.