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Five Keys to the Islanders Sweep Over the Penguins

Tight defense, team-wide composure, and Jordan Eberle's hot stick helped key the Isles 4-0 series sweep of Pens

by Sasha Kandrach KandrachSasha /

The New York Islanders completed their first playoff series sweep in 36 years, eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games on Tuesday night. 

It may have been a surprise to the prognosticators, but not to the Isles, who've internalized the 'prove people wrong' mentality all season and into the playoffs. 

"That's been a little bit of the story line here," captain Anders Lee said. "We're used to it. That's just the way it's been. It's not just this year. It's kind of always been that way. This year, we've really taken it on and run with it."

The series was closer than the sweep suggests, but the Islanders did a lot of good things to propel themselves to the second round. From tight defense, to a teamwide composure, to Jordan Eberle's hot stick, here are five factors of the Isles 4-0 sweep over Pittsburgh:

Video: NYI@PIT, Gm4: Islanders, Penguins shake hands


The Isles-Pens series was billed as a battle between Pittsburgh's high-octane offense and the Isles league-leading defense. The Isles got the better of the stylistic matchup, as they held the Penguins to six goals over four games and Sidney Crosby to one assist. 

There wasn't a secret formula or an elaborate scheme as to how the Islanders essentially shut down some of the top scorers in the NHL, but rather the unwavering work ethic and the solid team structure. Trotz called it "we over me" approach that's been part of their identity since day one of camp.

"We wanted to fix a couple of things. We wanted to play a certain way. We talked about culture and identity," Trotz said. "We knew that we could fix the goals against, that's commitment, that's work ethic, details and structure. That probably was the easiest thing, but getting everyone to play for each other is the hard thing."

The Islanders forced the Penguins to play to their game. Instead of setting up their methodical and rhythmic offense, the Penguins constantly had their heads on a swivel as the Islanders utilized a smothering forecheck and limited their chances in the danger areas.

"We're playing hard, we're playing physical and we're playing smart hockey," Casey Cizikas said. "We're getting back on the forecheck and our D have good gaps. We're playing Islander hockey right now." 

As a result, the Penguins were forced into turnovers and low-percentage plays. The frustration was palpable, and the Islanders remained composed as the tensions escalated, but never wavered on grinding the Penguins down shift-by-shift.

Video: PIT@NYI, Gm1: Lehner turns away Malkin twice in close


Barry Trotz said he couldn't make a bad goaltending decision given the effectiveness of both Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss this season. Trotz went with Lehner and the goalie delivered for his coach stopping 130-of-136 shots in his four wins, which doubled as his first four playoff starts.

Lehner held Pittsburgh's lethal and star-studded offense to just six goals through the series. Lehner's .956 save percentage is tops among playoff goalies. 

Video: NYI@PIT, Gm4: Eberle beats Murray on odd-man rush


The Islanders were 17-18-2 throughout the season when allowing the first goal, but were 3-0 in their series against the Penguins. The Penguins struck first in the final three games of the series, but the Isles mounted a near-immediate response to each goal, sometimes before the PA announcers could start their call. 

Barry Trotz said that's a sign of poise and composure from the Islanders. 

"The growth if anything was composure," Trotz said. "It got a little hairy at times and our bench didn't go emotionally off the rails. We stayed pretty composed and I liked that. We focused in on the right things and guys had moments when they almost came off the rails if you will and everyone around them pulled them back in. To me, that's how we will have success."

It only took the Islanders 28 seconds to counter Garrett Wilson's icebreaker in Game 3 and 1:34 to even the score after Jake Guentzel's opening goal in Game 4. The Penguins never held a two-goal lead in the series and only led for a total of 4:51, compared to 127:43 for the Islanders. 

"It just speaks to our maturity as a group," Matt Martin said. "They score 40 seconds into the game, so we have 59 minutes to go… We've done that all year where we've just focused on the big picture." 

Video: NYI@PIT, Gm4: Eberle on Islanders' sweep of Penguins

Prior to this series, the nine-year veteran had only played in 13 playoff games, all with Edmonton in 2017, and had only recorded two assists. Eberle vocalized his frustrations from that playoff run and his eagerness for the opportunity to get back in the postseason action again. 

"I had waited so long to get into the playoffs, finally had a chance and didn't play well," Eberle said after Game 1. "You try and move on from it and it sucks. You don't ever want that title. It definitely motivated me throughout the last couple of years. You finally get an opportunity here and it's something you don't want to let it down."

Eberle wasted no time in rewriting his playoff narrative. The 28-year-old led the Islanders with four goals and six points and scored in every game of the series. Eberle also rekindled his chemistry with Mathew Barzal on the Isles top line, as Barzal assisted on three out of Eberle's four goals. Barzal completed his first playoffs series with five assists and was plus-six. 

Video: PIT@NYI, Gm1: Bailey wins it in OT for Islanders


The Islanders had four players: Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Devon Toews make their playoff debuts against the Penguins. The foursome combined for 11 points (1G, 10A) in the series and didn't look overmatched even in the face of the Penguins Stanley Cup experience. 

Barzal had a team-high five assists - including the setup on Josh Bailey's OT winner in Game 1 - while Beauvillier (1G, 1A), Pelech (2A) and Toews (2A) all hit the scoresheet. Pelech saw big minutes against the Crosby line, while Toews played with the trademark poise he's shown since December. 

"You don't know how people are going to react in hostile environments sometimes. I thought everybody reacted really well," Trotz said after Game 3. 

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