The New York Islanders are heading to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As rightly predicted during our series preview, the Islanders eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. This is now two straight playoff series wins for the Islanders over the Penguins. It’s also the fifth time in six playoff series all-time against Pittsburgh that the Islanders have won. It goes to show that the regular-season series numbers don’t really matter when it comes to the playoffs. The story of this series was goaltending. Ever since his debut in Game 1, Ilya Sorokin has been rock solid for the Islanders, while Tristan Jarry was not good for the Penguins. Sorokin was the story of the rest of the series after Semyon Varlamov started Games 2 and 3. His play propelled the Islanders to the next round of the playoffs where they will face the Boston Bruins.
Ilya Sorokin Is the Difference Maker Against Pittsburgh
The Islanders had a decision to make as they entered Game 4 against the Penguins, trailing in the series 2-1. Head coach Barry Trotz could go with Varlamov, who had struggled in Games 2 and 3, or the young Russian in Ilya Sorokin. In a must-win situation, Trotz went with the rookie and the rookie made Trotz look like a smart man. Even though the Penguins’ offence was able to score nine goals on Sorokin in his four starts in the series, Sorokin outperformed Jarry in the big moments – none bigger than that double-overtime gaffe by Jarry in Game 5. That led to Josh Bailey‘s winner to send the Islanders back to Long Island up 3-2 in the series.
In the biggest moments of the series, Sorokin stood tall. In the two games that went to overtime, the Islanders came out victorious and it was Ilya Sorokin making the big saves. To start Game 5, the Penguins came out strong as they peppered the rookie every chance they get as he stopped 50 of 52 shots. However, the vaunted Penguins offence that had the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and others only managed two goals against him in Game 5. Sorokin’s confidence in between the pipes allowed the Islanders to play their style of game. Regardless of the score, the Islanders knew they were never out of a game. The same can’t be said when Varlamov was in between the pipes.
With the Islanders off to the Second Round and facing a familiar foe in the Boston Bruins, Sorokin has taken over the number one position and will be the starter going forward. Imagine if Trotz does not make the move to Sorokin – the Islanders might have been going home. For the Penguins, goaltending will be an area they will need to address in the off-season.
Islanders’ Depth Scoring Outperforms Penguins’ Depth Scoring
While the stars like Crosby, Malkin, and Mathew Barzal were the story entering the series, it was the depth players who played a role. The Islanders got contributions from everyone in their lineup. Most notably, Anthony Beauvillier and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each had seven points in the first-round series against Pittsburgh. Bailey was right behind them with six points. And in Game 6 Brock Nelson stepped recording two goals to give the Islanders a 5-3 victory.
It has been a major question mark since Anders Lee was lost to injury – who was going to step up for the Islanders? At the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac along with Braydon Coburn. Palmieri had three goals in the series, including two in Game 1.
Again, the Islanders won this series with Barzal recording just three points, all of which were assists. They will need more from him going forward. But that speaks to the depth of the Islanders team. On the other side of things, though, it seemed like it was the Jeff Carter show and nobody else. While others like Frederick Gaudreau, Jason Zucker, and Kasperi Kapanen contributed on offence, where were Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, and guys like that? They were brought in to give the Penguins depth in their bottom-six, and those guys were outperformed by the Islanders’ bottom-six throughout the series. That’s not how the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
Now the Penguins have suffered two straight first-round playoff losses, not to mention they lost in the play-in series last year to the Montreal Canadiens. Something’s got to change for Pittsburgh going forward. But give credit to the Islanders for playing their system to the standards their coach has set.
Islanders’ Defence Frustrates Crosby
A big factor entering the series was Sidney Crosby and his history against the Islanders. However, in this series, the Islanders frustrated Crosby at every turn. Crosby had just two points in the series, his lowest output in a series since coming into the league. That is a credit to the Islanders’ defence and how they play against him. Instead of playing a speed game, Crosby was playing a more physical game. That is not his style. Crosby was just off after Game 1. Was it an injury or something else? Even with Malkin back in the lineup, Crosby could not find his game. Every time Crosby touched the ice, he was met by Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. Didn’t matter on the road or at home, Trotz was sending those guys out against him.
The Islanders knew what the game plan was and they perfected it. As we have seen in years past, if a team can throw off Crosby, then that team usually wins the series. The Islanders are in the Penguins’ heads. And if these teams meet again in the future, Mike Sullivan will have to make the proper adjustments to play against the Islanders’ smothering defence, not to mention the play of Ilya Sorokin. Crosby had no answers for him.
For the Islanders, it is a date with the Bruins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the Penguins, it is back to the drawing board. It will be interesting to see what the Penguins do in the off-season. Will Brian Burke and Ron Hextall make major changes? And will the core pieces be back?
Stay tuned as the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue.
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