The New York Islanders have swept the Pittsburgh Penguins from the first round of the playoffs thanks to a 3-1 victory Tuesday night, signalling their intent as a playoff powerhouse.
It may not have seemed that way at first and, indeed, the Islanders’ victory may have been stunning to those not in the know.
But on Long Island, hockey has changed. Head coach Barry Trotz has seen to that with a renewed commitment to team defence, gritty play and confident goaltending.
Trotz and Co. proved their newfound mettle against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, long thought to be one of those teams that just comes alive in the post-season. But like the Tampa Bay Lightning, swept in historic fashion by the Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh has fallen and the hockey world isn’t quite sure what to do.
“It’s not like we came in and thought we were going to win it in four games,” said New York goaltender Robin Lehner. “But we felt confident coming in playing against these guys. We really did.”
Lehner had every reason for that confidence, it turns out. He allowed just six goals on 136 shots, posting a goals against average of 1.47 and a .956 save percentage. After allowing three goals in Game One, he shut the door and allowed just one goal in each of the subsequent three games.
The Islanders only trailed for less than five minutes in the series and, like Columbus with Tampa, always had an answer for what Pittsburgh brought to the table.
Whether that was an offensive answer, like how Jordan Eberle scored a goal in every game, or defensively, New York came to play and held their opponents to six goals.
In effect, it’s a wakeup call to the Penguins. Swept out of the first round for the first time since 1972, realizations will set in and Pittsburgh may have to face up to some changes.
“It’s a tough loss for us, but we have to learn,” Evgeni Malkin said. “Next year, we need to understand there are young guys, they’re hungry. Every team tries to win. We’re not champions anymore.”
And with a detail-oriented approach that involves playing a systematic version of team defence, the Islanders are feeding that hunger with wins. They’ll face either the Capitals or Hurricanes in the second round.
(Photo credit: NHL.com)