Series in Review: The Pittsburgh Penguins vs The New York Islanders
Whoa boy. This is not going to be like any of the other reviews. This is going to be a Penguins fan's pure reaction to whatever this series was. I’ll be praising the 19 skaters that played for Pittsburgh while ripping a new one for another. On another hand, the Islanders played very well in this series. I don’t think that they were the better of the two teams, but here we are. Not only the 2019 and 2018 Stanley Cup Champions have been eliminated, the 2016 and 2017 Champions now join them.
Game 1 was a fun watch. It was an even battle between two strong hockey teams, but it ended up being a battle of the goaltenders, this started the theme of this series, in which the Penguins eventually lost. A tough fought regulation in a very disciplined, but physical game, led to a Game 1 overtime. Now to refresh some peoples memory on what happened in 2019, the Penguins were swept by the Islanders in the first round. Game 1 went to overtime from a late tying goal from Justin Schultz to make it 3–3. Pittsburgh lost that overtime, and I kinda knew when Kapanen tied the game late at 3–3, the game was going to the Islanders. It did, and they took a 1–0 series lead. A very close game, and although I would’ve liked Jarry to save one of the 3 he let in in regulation, I don’t think this game was on him. Also, Sorokin was between the pipes for this one, but in game 2 Varlamov would return in the crease.
Everybody was on Jarrys back heading into game 2, but he played very well in this one. This game was arguably even closer than Game 1, but the Penguins were able to prevail. Pittsburgh went up 2–0 early, and then continued to beat the Islanders at their own game. They played a shutdown game, and besides one amazing goal from Josh Bailey, they were able to completely shut down the Islanders and tie the series. The Penguins still controlled the shots and the flow of the game for all 60 minutes.
In Long Island the Islanders were the better team. It’s as simple as that. But game 3 was probably the most entertaining game of the series behind game 1. Pittsburgh headed into the third period with a 3–1 lead, but little did they know they were in for some ping pong. Less than 6 minutes into the period the game was tied at 3, and it only took another minute to the Penguins to take back the lead. Clutterbuck tied the game late in the period, but two minutes later Brandon Tanev scored the dagger to give the Penguins a 2–1 series lead with a 5–4 victory.
Game 4 was what was expected by the Islanders in game 3. I thought that they would come in and dominate the Penguins on home ice, but instead they lost the lead of the series. In this game, the Islanders gave Sorokin the start instead or Varlamov, and it would win them the series. However, Sorokin wasn’t the reason why the Isles won this game. New York played a more sound and defensive oriented game, while the Penguins suffered 3 own goals from unfortunate bounces that cost them the game with a 4–1 defeat. We had a 2–2 series heading back to Pittsburgh.
To this point I don’t think that Jarry was necessarily outplayed by either of the Islanders netminders. Game 5 would change that, and end the Penguins season. After watching the most dominant playoff game I’ve ever watched, no exaggeration, Pittsburgh ended up tied 2–2 heading into a double OT. But how? Sorokin stood on his head. He wasn’t letting much of anything past him and he made sure the Pens knew that early in this contest. The Islanders only had two really good scoring chances, and sure enough they scored on both of them. Both were from mistakes from Dumoulin, but you can at least expect a starting goalie to save one of those. I’m not even going to explain what happened in the second OT, I’m just going to put the clip here incase you somehow haven’t seen it.
Heading into game 6 people weren’t sure how Jarry would bounce back. Would he perform well as he did in game 2 or lay an even bigger egg? Well, it was the latter. The Penguins had a lead 3 times in this game, but they never even got much of a chance to build off of the momentum because Jarry couldn’t stop a beach ball. The first goal from Beauvillier wasn’t a problem, that isn’t an easy stop, it happens. The third goal from Nelson was just a beautiful play from the Islanders that not a single goalie in the world could stop without getting extremely lucky. The second, the fourth, and the fifth however? Just terrible. Especially when you consider that 3 of the Isles goals were scored in a 2:59 span in the second period. Sorokin then shut the door, and the Penguins season was ended from a 5–3 loss.
Evgeni Malkin was on another level in this series. He looked very good, and that’s to be expected. In game 4 he lost his temper and took some stupid penalties, but he rebounded very fast. Kris Letang, as well as most of the defenders on the Penguins, had a fantastic series. This was the best I have seen Letang play since the 2016 cup run, and I thought this year would be something similar to that. Unfortunatly his run was cut short, but I don’t want to see anyone go after either him or Malkin for this series. The top line is another story however. Sid, Jake, and Rust didn’t have a fantastic series. Sid was dominant, yes, but he was almost completely shut down by Pulock and Pelech for the whole series. I mean a total of 7 points in 6 games from your top line isn’t a very good way to succeed, especially when Rust was the leading scorer out of them all with 3 points. Jarry had an unbelievably bad series. This is the worst goaltending performance I’ve seen in the playoffs since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2012. He’s going to have to step it up if the Penguins want another ring on their fingers before the end of the Crosby era.
The Barzal line had a very tough series. They didn’t look very good at 5–on-5, but the line of Bailey-Nelson-Beauviller stepped up in a big way. Beauvillier especially. He had multiple goals on the rush where he used his speed to his advantage, and I feel like he’s a very underrated forward. Mainly because of the system that he plays in. Pelech and Pulock were very good in this series. Pulock scored at a higher rate than he normally does, but the both of them managed to shut down one of the best lines in the NHL, and you have to give them credit for that. Ilya Sorokin is really the difference maker on this Islanders roster in this series however. Varlamov was not very good in game 3, and that lead to Sorokin regaining the net. That decision from Barry Trotz is what caused the Islanders to win the series, and you have to think they run with the hot hand for their next matchup against the Bruins.
I mean, you can look at these six numbers and it can completely justify that the goalies were the difference makers in this series. The Penguins were better when it comes to both ends of the special teams, as well as outshooting the Islanders by 7.3 shots per game. With that context, as well as the level of star power on Pittsburgh compared to New York, you wouldn’t expect a 0.83 GFPG difference in the Islanders favour. The Penguins don’t have many changes they need to make this offseason, so I really hope that Hextall and Burke don’t overreact to this loss. The Isles have the big bad Bruins ahead of them, and I would be very surprised if they were able to make it to the final four with another upset.