The New York Islanders do not play a very horny brandy of hockey. They forecheck. They backcheck. They block photographs and take few dangers, extra centered on fundamentals than flash.
It is a model designed to frustrate opponents no matter pedigree, one which has them on the cusp of simply their second playoff sequence win in additional than a quarter-century.
Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson scored 62 seconds aside within the first interval to shortly erase a uncommon deficit, Robin Lehner stopped 25 photographs and the Islanders moved inside one victory of ending off Sidney Crosby and the remainder of the pissed off Pittsburgh Penguins with a 4-1 win on Sunday to take a 3-Zero lead of their best-of-seven Japanese Convention quarterfinal.
It is heady territory for a franchise that is superior previous the primary spherical simply as soon as since 1993. But the Islanders definitely seem like they belong on the massive stage. They’ve outscored Pittsburgh 11-5 via three video games and have trailed for lower than 4 minutes via nine-plus durations in opposition to a staff that started the playoffs trying to seize its third Stanley Cup in 4 years, a dream that is all however vanished.
“We sort of did our greatest to play easy hockey and actually simply grind it out a bit bit,” mentioned New York ahead Anders Lee, whose empty-net purpose with 1:28 to go pushed the Islanders to the cusp of an unlikely sweep.
It is what the Islanders do.
Whereas they lack Pittsburgh’s offensive firepower, they’ve made up for it with depth and resiliency. Somewhat than get rattled after Garrett Wilson gave the Penguins simply their second lead of the sequence when he redirected a degree shot by Lehner simply previous the halfway level of the primary interval, the Islanders responded instantly.
Eberle beat Matt Murray quick facet from simply above the purpose line 28 seconds after Wilson’s rating to tie the sport and Nelson completed off a 2-on-1 to place New York in entrance to remain simply over a minute later. Lehner withstood a sequence of pushes by the Penguins, and the Islanders counterpunched brilliantly within the third interval behind targets from Leo Komarov and Lee to drag away.
“Playoffs are all about momentum,” mentioned Eberle, who has three targets in three video games. “When you’ll be able to take some staff’s momentum away and simply proceed to construct yours, it is key.”
Matt Murray completed with 32 saves for the Penguins, however Pittsburgh once more struggled to generate any type of sustained offensive strain.
New York, which allowed an NHL-low 196 targets on its method to a second-place end within the Metropolitan Division, has clamped down on Crosby and linemate Jake Guentzel. The 2 — who mixed for 75 targets and 101 assists throughout the common season — have but to report a degree within the playoffs.
Pittsburgh wants a win in Recreation Four on Tuesday to keep away from being swept for the primary time for the reason that 2013 Japanese Convention finals in opposition to Boston.
“You have to discover methods to attain targets this time of 12 months,” Crosby mentioned. “It isn’t simple however you have to discover a method to do it and clearly we’ve not performed job of it via the primary three video games.”
The Islanders managed Video games 1 and a pair of again residence on Lengthy Island to take the franchise’s first 2-Zero postseason lead for the reason that 1983 Stanley Cup finals, once they accomplished their run of 4 straight championships by sweeping Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.
The Penguins insisted it wasn’t time to panic, with coach Mike Sullivan downplaying the concept his staff wanted to play with desperation. Nonetheless, he opted to tinker together with his strains seeking a spark, elevating Dominik Simon to the highest line alongside Crosby and Guentzel and placing Jared McCann — who sat out Recreation 2 with a lower-body harm — on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
It did not fairly work. Simon had an opportunity to even the rating late within the first interval, however Guenztel’s crossing move on the finish of a 3-on-1 headed to Simon’s stick as a substitute of his skate, emblematic of a sequence wherein few bounces have gone Pittsburgh’s means. Not that the Penguins had been in search of sympathy.
“If we work exhausting and do the fitting issues, we’ll earn our bounces,” Crosby mentioned.
The Islanders have definitely earned theirs.
Now they discover themselves in a spot that appeared unbelievable at greatest every week in the past: heading to Recreation Four with an opportunity to make Pittsburgh’s playoff keep the shortest of the Crosby/Malkin period. They’re additionally conscious the following victory would be the hardest to return by.
“This group will not be afraid of labor,” mentioned first-year Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who led Washington previous Pittsburgh final spring on the way in which to the Stanley Cup. “They don’t seem to be afraid of competitors. They don’t seem to be afraid of an entire lot.”
NOTES: 4 groups have rallied from 3-Zero deficits to win a best-of-seven sequence, together with a victory by the Islanders over the Penguins in 1975. … Pittsburgh went Zero for Three on the facility play to drop to 1 for eight with the person benefit within the sequence. The Islanders went Zero for two on the facility play, squandering a 30-second two-man benefit within the second interval. … Penguins F Jared McCann skated 14:23 after lacking Recreation 2 with a lower-body harm.