For the second time in three seasons, the Islanders draw the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Let’s get it on,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz after Monday night’s regular season ending 3-2 overtime loss in Boston that ensured a 4th place finish in the East Division. “I want our guys to enjoy the playoffs. It’s so hard to get here and there’s pressures but I want them to enjoy it. I want them to leave their best game out there and if they leave their best game out there, hopefully good things happen.”
The Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round of the 2019 playoffs but they had home-ice advantage in that series. This time around, the series will start in Pittsburgh this weekend. The Penguins gave the Islanders fits during the regular season winning six of the eight meetings including all four in Pittsburgh.
February 6th Islanders 4 Penguins 1 at Nassau Coliseum
February 11th Penguins 4 Islanders 3 (shootout) at Nassau Coliseum
February 18th Penguins 4 Islanders 1 in Pittsburgh
February 20th Penguins 3 Islanders 2 in Pittsburgh
February 27th Penguins 4 Islanders 3 at Nassau Coliseum
February 28th Islanders 2 Penguins 0 at Nassau Coliseum
March 27th Penguins 6 Islanders 3 in Pittsburgh
March 29th Penguins 2 Islanders 1 in Pittsburgh
But despite their problems with the Penguins during the regular season, the Islanders are confident that they can reverse their fortunes in the playoffs.
“It’s going to be a war,” said Islanders forward Mat Barzal. “We’re a pretty confident group. We’ve beaten all the top teams. We’ve had good games with everybody. Last year was heartbreaking. It’s a hungry group and we’re obviously looking forward to getting it going.”
While the Islanders finished the truncated and condensed 56 game regular season with a record of 32-17-7 for 71 points, they will be facing a Penguins team that finished strong to win the East with a record of 37-16-3 for 77 points. There’s only a six-point difference between the two teams, but it will be a challenge for the Islanders to come up with the winning formula to knock off the Penguins.
“They’ve got a really good forward group,” said Trotz. “Their defense is mobile. They play a real good team game. They’re not afraid to put it north and forecheck. They play a 200-foot game. It will be a little bit of a fight for inches here.”
The Penguins certainly turned it up a notch down the stretch winning nine of their last eleven games to edge the Capitals for the division title.
“You look at their year and they’re playing excellent, especially the back half of the year they’ve been firing on all cylinders,” said Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy. “I think it will be an awesome challenge. It’s the best time of the year and looking forward to it.”
This will be the sixth playoff meeting between the Islanders and Penguins with the Islanders winning four of the previous five.
1975 Quarterfinals: Islanders win best of seven four games to three.
1982 Patrick Division Semifinals: Islanders win best of five three games to two.
1993 Patrick Division Final: Islanders win best of seven four games to three.
2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Penguins win best of seven four games to two.
2019 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Islanders win best of seven four games to none.
The Islanders will take Monday off and then they’ll have some extended time to get ready for the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins.
“We’ll have a couple of days here to start preparing and get our minds in it,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. “It’s an exciting time of the year starting now so guys are going to be excited and ready to get it going.
After advancing in the bubble to the last season’s Eastern Conference Final, the Islanders survived the all-divisional regular season schedule to be able to be one of four teams to punch their ticket to the postseason. The Islanders are certainly battle tested after some playoff success since Trotz came on as Head Coach for the 2018-19 season. This regular season was not easy, but now the Islanders are looking to complete some unfinished business from last season.
“We’ve earned the right to get in the playoffs and its going to be hopefully a few months of that same grind,” said Trotz.
The grind returns this weekend.