Thanks to a 4-1 victory Sunday over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders are one victory away from sweeping their first playoff series since 1983.
One could argue the Islanders have had the Penguins, an underperforming bunch this season, on the ropes the entire time. And on Sunday, it looked like that for certain. Pittsburgh scored first, but Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson responded 62 seconds apart and handled the deficit and New York goalie Robin Lehner was in charge the rest of the way.
This, for the Islanders, is to be expected.
“We got 103 points in the standings,” said Lehner. “It can’t be a surprise. This team was no fluke this year. Everyone looks and compares players and all that stuff, [but] I look at our roster and see a lot of really good players and I see a really good organization and great coaching and great defencemen. I see a lot of heart. It shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Long Island is leaving nothing to chance in its first playoff berth in three years and its first home ice advantage opportunity since 1988 and things are essentially going according to plan, if not way ahead of schedule.
The Isles are, predictably, clogging up the Penguins’ stars and frustrating a potent offence. Through three games, New York has outscored Pittsburgh 11-5. They’ve seldom trailed, with the Penguins holding a lead just twice in the series.
“Playoffs are all about momentum,” said Jordan Eberle. “When you can take some team’s momentum away and just continue to build yours, it’s key.”
Eberle has been instrumental in helping build his team’s momentum, by the way, with three goals in three games.
And the rest of the Islanders squad has responded in kind, holding Sidney Crosby and Co. without any real opportunities. New York’s stifling defence has enabled the offence to maintain pressure on Penguins goalie Matt Murray while shutting down the stars. Crosby and Jake Guentzel have been kept off the scoresheet thus far.
Pittsburgh is now in a must-win situation. They were Sunday and they couldn’t pull it off, putting New York within a win of victory.
The last time the New York Islanders swept a playoff series was when they polished off their run of four straight Stanley Cups. And the opposition? Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.
(Photo credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)