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No Surprise: Isles Grind Continues Into Second Round

Parts of the hockey world may be surprised by the Islanders second-round berth, but not the Isles themselves

by Cory Wright WrightsWay /

Series Rewind: NYI vs. PIT

Islanders advance with sweep of Penguins

Led by Jordan Eberle's tallies in each game, the Islanders move on to the Second Round with a four-game sweep of the Penguins

  • 04:15 •

After a 4-1 win in Game 3, Robin Lehner basically scoffed at the notion the New York Islanders had caught the Pittsburgh Penguins by surprise. 

The goalie reminded the reporters that it was the Islanders who had finished with 103 points during the regular season and ahead of the Penguins in the standings.

After all, Game 3 was being played in Pittsburgh because the Isles had secured home-ice advantage as the higher seed. 

He could have even reminded everyone that it was the Isles who'd allowed the fewest goals in the NHL during the regular season, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that they'd been stingy through the playoff series - ultimately allowing six goals in a four-game sweep.

So no, there was not a lot of surprise in the Islanders room when they advanced to the second round with a 3-1 win over the Penguins on Tuesday night. Perhaps, it was a little shocking how quickly it happened. 

"We set out to have a good series and we set out to win it," captain Anders Lee said. "It probably happened a little bit quicker than most people thought, but it's a credit to how we played. I think we played a really good four games total."

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Islanders advance to Second Round

Head Coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday morning that the Islanders only look forward, not backwards and starting Wednesday, Trotz's gaze turns to both of the Islanders prospective opponents, the Washington Capitals - his former team - and the Carolina Hurricanes. 

If they do take a look back on their flight out of Pittsburgh, they'll see how far they've come in the last seven months. They overhauled their identity, delivering a roundhouse kick to their league-worst goals against to become the league's best defensive team in under a year. 

They sacrificed everything from individual stats to their bodies, becoming the ultimate "we over me" team, according to Trotz. Sure, blocks hurt and individual points and accolades feel good, but playing into May is a worthy tradeoff. They were fine with being the only ones who thought they'd be there. 

"A lot of the guys said right away this team is going to go far," Lehner said, recounting his offseason talks with his then-new teammates. "I think that just grew during the season when our system started to gel and we started playing together… We have a good team and we've been overlooked a little bit." 

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

The Islanders beat the Penguins the way they beat most teams this season, grinding their way through low-scoring wins while playing physical and structured hockey. They took the Penguins out of a track meet and into a three-legged race, relying on their methodical abilities as a unit. 

"Early on a lot of people wrote us off and were shocked," said Jordan Eberle, who led the Isles with four goals in four games. "We're confident in the way that we play, the way that the group is here and this is one of the tighter-knit teams that I've played on. We love battling and playing for each other. If you do that every night on a consistent basis, you can go places." 

It worked. Sidney Crosby was held to one point - an assist - in the series, not hitting the scoresheet until Game 4. Same for leading goal scorer Jake Guentzel. Evgeni Malkin had a team-high three points, a far cry from the terror he inflicted back in the 2013 series. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: We have as good a chance as anybody. #LGI

The most telling stat of the series wasn't that the Isles held the Penguins to six goals, or that the Isles were 3-0 when allowing the icebreaker, rather it was how little they trailed.   

Throughout the series, the Isles played from behind for a grand total of 4:51. According to Eric Hornick, the Penguins had an empty-net for longer (5:55). 

The Isles had a response ready for every Penguins goal and were virtually unfazed when Garrett Wilson opened the scoring in Game 3, or when Guentzel scored 35 seconds into Game 4. Eberle answered so quickly in Game 3 that the Penguins PA announcer hadn't been able to call the Pittsburgh goal. Matt Martin said the Isles response to Guentzel's goal was that they had 59 more minutes to go get a win. 

To Trotz, those responses spoke to his group's composure, which he saw as one of the biggest areas of growth in his team during the series. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: We���ve come a long way. And we���re ready to keep proving people wrong. #Isles

"It got a little hairy at times and our bench didn't go emotionally off the rails," Trotz said. "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." 

Reaching the second round isn't enough success for the Isles, who showed their maturity with a measured response to Tuesday's First Round series win. They want more and confidently think they can achieve more if they stick to their new identity - and that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.  

"This is just one of our goals for heading towards that ultimate goal," Martin said. "Making the playoffs was one. Win the first round was one. Win the second round, but ultimately you want to go home with the Cup. We're happy with the result and the way we are playing, but there's a long way to go." 

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