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First Round

Islanders top Penguins in Game 3 to continue improbable playoff run

New York has chance for first postseason sweep since 1983 Cup Final

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

PITTSBURGH -- Robin Lehner basically rolled his eyes when he was asked if the New York Islanders have taken the Pittsburgh Penguins by surprise after a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday gave New York a 3-0 lead in this best-of-7 series.

"We got 103 points in the standings," said the Islanders goalie, who made 25 saves and held the Penguins to one goal for a second straight game. "It can't be a surprise. This team was no fluke this year.

"Everyone looks and compares players and all that stuff, [but] I look at our roster and see a lot of really good players and I see a really good organization and great coaching and great defensemen. I see a lot of heart. It shouldn't be a surprise."

 

[RELATED: Islanders shut down Penguins in Game 3 | Complete series coverage]

 

Heart has certainly played a huge role for the Islanders, and it was on full display again Sunday when, as has been the case all season, they responded the right way in the face of adversity. Before the public address announcer could announce Garrett Wilson's game-opening goal at 12:54 of the first period, right wing Jordan Eberle scored 28 seconds later with a highlight-reel wrist shot from a sharp angle that beat Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray to the short side and tied the game 1-1.

Center Brock Nelson put New York ahead to stay 1:02 later when he finished a 2-on-1 rush with Josh Bailey by beating Murray with a wrist shot from the right circle. That made it 2-1 at 14:24, and the Islanders never looked back.

"Our bench was really good," coach Barry Trotz said. "That was huge. This is a fantastic building to play in; the fans are great. They get the first goal, and that really hasn't fazed us all year. We've been pretty even-keel about that. But getting a quick response like we did, I think, was a little bit key."

Perhaps the biggest key as to why the Islanders have a 3-0 series lead is that they've held the face of the Penguins, center Sidney Crosby, without a point. They've done the same to forward Jake Guentzel, who scored 40 goals this season.

"You've got to find ways to score goals this time of year," said Crosby, who had 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists) during the regular season but has six shots on goal in the series. "It's not easy, but you have to find a way to do it. Obviously, we haven't done a good enough job of that these first three games."

Because of that, the Islanders are one win away from eliminating these Penguins and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the second time since 1993. Game 4 is here on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2, ATTSN-PT, MSG, MSG+); a win would give the Islanders their first series sweep since the 1983 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers.

"Just got to worry about one game," said Crosby, who was minus-3 Sunday. We've just got to focus on winning Game 4, and we haven't left ourselves a lot of room for error. But all we can do is control our mindset for Game 4 and find a way to get a win."

Video: NYI@PIT, Gm3: Eberle snipes wrister from tough angle

As well as the Islanders have defended during this series, they're aware of how capable the Penguins are of breaking out at any time -- especially Crosby, who's a threat of every shift.

"Sid, he's going to have his chances," said New York captain Anders Lee, who sealed the win with an empty-net goal at 18:32 of the third period. "He's going to create plays all the time, and we've just got to do our best to limit those. He's a phenomenal player and he doesn't need much room to turn something into a goal or a nice play. We've just got to do whatever we can to limit them."

Should they continue to do so, the Islanders and Penguins could be shaking hands at center ice as early as Tuesday. Despite the lack of hope outside the organization for what New York could accomplish this season, this improbable ride doesn't look like it's about to end.

But nobody was celebrating in the Islanders locker room after Game 3. There wasn't any concern that players would start looking ahead to the second round despite having the Penguins on the brink.

Video: NYI@PIT, Gm3: Nelson buries wrister on odd-man rush

"Not with this group," right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. "It's been a pretty good group. We're just going to try to go back to the hotel and maybe catch the 'Game of Thrones' premiere tonight. We'll think about Tuesday tomorrow morning.

"There's no expectation; there's hasn't been from the start. It's just been about work and it's been about doing it for the guy in the room next to you, the clichés, roll them out, whichever one you want to use. But the fact is that we just care about each other's job and we go out and take care of our own."

Four teams in NHL history have come back to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games. Most recently, the Los Angeles Kings did it against the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Western Conference First Round, then went on to win the Stanley Cup. It also happened in 1975, when the Islanders lost the first three games of their Stanley Cup Quarterfinal to the Penguins, then won the next four games.

With two goals in their past two games, the Penguins have their work cut out for them. It's not impossible, but they know the odds.

"There's not a lot of risk associated with the Islanders' game," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "They've got numbers back. They have a defense-first identity. That's been their identity all year. That's what's brought them success.

"We know what we're up against. We know what the challenge is."

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