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Round 1

Islanders vs. Penguins playoff preview

New York counting on top defense in NHL to shut down Crosby, Pittsburgh

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

New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Islanders: 48-27-7, 103 points, second in Metropolitan

Penguins: 44-26-12, 100 points, third in Metropolitan

Season series: NYI 2-1-1; PIT 2-1-1

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Penguins series coverage]

 

The skinny 

The New York Islanders shocked most of the hockey world with their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not only are they in the postseason for the first time in three seasons, they have not had home-ice advantage since 1988. But they face an enormous test in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are in the playoffs for a 13th straight year.

"We really wanted home ice," New York goalie Robin Lehner said. "We've seen how special the [Nassau] Coliseum's been and all the fans and it's going to be a really fun series. They're a good team. It's going to be a good challenge. If we stick to our game, I like our chances."

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Islanders clinch a playoff spot

It will be a new situation for most of the Islanders, but their coach has seen his share of the Penguins in the playoffs. Barry Trotz, who guided the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship last season, faced the Penguins in each of his last three seasons as Capitals coach.

Game 1 will the first time the Islanders and Penguins have played against each other since Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout win at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 10, 2018.

"It starts with Sid," Trotz said, referring to Penguins center Sidney Crosby. "Sid's still the standard and (Evgeni) Malkin raises his game in the playoffs all the time. They've got (Phil) Kessel, they've got a number of people. They've got championship pedigree, they've got lots of experience."

Video: NYR@PIT: Crosby gets 100th point on Guentzel's 40th

The Penguins are coming off an admirable regular season that saw them nearly secure home-ice advantage in the first round despite a myriad of injuries, including Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.

"The type of hockey they play is a playoff style; it's tight," Crosby said of the Islanders. "They don't give up a lot. Look at the games that we've played against them; you've got to earn the space that you create out there. I think they're defensive-minded, but they can score too. They have depth. So it'll be a good challenge for us, but it's the best time of year."

 

Game breakers

Islanders: This will be center Mathew Barzal's first NHL postseason experience. The 21-year-old saw his production dip in Trotz's system (he won the Calder Trophy last season as the top rookie in the NHL with 85 points) but led New York in scoring again (62 points in 82 games) and became a more responsible two-way player. But Barzal scored one goal over the final 24 games of the regular season, a trend that will need to be reversed if the Islanders hope to advance.

Penguins: Crosby is coming off yet another stellar regular season. The 31-year-old reached 100 points for the sixth time in his NHL career, finishing with 35 goals and 65 assists in 79 games. He has been dominant against the Islanders since entering the NHL in 2005 with 113 points (36 goals, 77 assists) in 66 games.

 

Goaltending

Islanders: Winners of the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL (191), Lehner and Thomas Greiss essentially split the duties right down the middle, combined for 11 shutouts and had near-identical results. Lehner played 46 games and finished with 25 wins, a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage; Greiss, who helped New York defeat the Florida Panthers in the 2016 first round, won 23 games with a 2.28 GAA and .927 save percentage. It's likely Lehner will start Game 1, but the Islanders are still in good hands should he falter.

Penguins: Matt Murray is Pittsburgh's clear-cut No. 1 goalie and has 44 games of NHL playoff experience, highlighted by a Stanley Cup championship in 2016. The 24-year-old has a 2.08 GAA and .923 save percentage in the postseason. Murray will be backed up by Casey DeSmith, who has never played in an NHL playoff game but made 22 saves in a 6-2 win against the Islanders at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6.

 

Numbers to know 

Islanders: It's the first time in 100 years (Ottawa Senators, 1918-19) a team has gone from allowing the most goals in the NHL (293 in 2017-18) to the fewest the following season. How good was New York defensively? It was 38-2-2 when scoring at least three goals (including shootout goals).

Penguins: Given the number of offensive weapons at their disposal, it was no surprise the Penguins finished in the top five on the power play (24.6 percent). Crosby and Kessel each scored 12 goals with the man-advantage, and 36 of Kessel's 82 points came via the power play.

Video: Previewing the Islanders-Penguins First Round matchup

 

Injury report

Islanders: Center Valtteri Filppula was initially expected to be out four weeks after he hyperextended his elbow during a 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 19, but the 35-year-old was back for New York's regular-season finale and scored two goals in a 3-0 win at the Capitals on Saturday. Filppula has been a key player on special teams, especially on the penalty kill, and will play a huge role over the course of this series. Forward Andrew Ladd, however, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Penguins: The hope is defenseman Brian Dumoulin will be able to return in time for Game 1 after missing the final three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. Malkin returned for the final two regular-season games after missing eight games because of a rib injury, and Letang has recovered from an upper-body injury but has played five games since Feb. 23. Forward Zach Aston-Reese (lower body) and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper body) are skating.

 

They said it

"It's exciting, [I'm] looking forward to it. It's obviously a team that's done extremely well of late and has a lot of threats and a lot of power. I think no matter what, anyone you face at this time of year is going to be a tough challenge. I think we're all looking forward to seeing them and having a great series." -- Islanders forward Anders Lee

"The Islanders will be a tough opponent. They're a real good team, they've had a great year. We've had some really hard-fought battles against them. It'll be a tough opponent. Having said that, I'm excited about the opportunity that we have. I think we have a real good hockey team. We just have to make sure that we play the game the right way and we compete, and we control what we can to be at our best." -- Penguins coach Mike Sullivan

 

Will win if ...

Islanders: They produce enough offensively. New York was shut out five times during the regular season, including three in its final 10 games. If the Islanders stick to their system they will limit the Penguins' scoring chances, but they must capitalize when they get theirs.

Penguins: They can win at least once in what promises to be a rocking atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum, which will host playoff games for the first time since 2015. Regardless of how the Islanders fare in the playoffs, the first-round games will be the only ones at the Coliseum (any remaining home games will be played at Barclays Center), so Pittsburgh must find ways to take the crowd out of the equation.

 

How they look

Islanders projected lineup

Anders Lee -- Mathew Barzal -- Jordan Eberle

Josh Bailey -- Brock Nelson -- Tom Kuhnhackl

Anthony Beauvillier -- Valtteri Filppula -- Leo Komarov

Matt Martin -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy -- Johnny Boychuk

Adam Pelech -- Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews -- Scott Mayfield

Robin Lehner

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Thomas Hickey, Luca Sbisa, Dennis Seidenberg, Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston

 

Penguins projected lineup

Jared McCann -- Sidney Crosby -- Jake Guentzel

Bryan Rust -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Dominik Simon -- Nick Bjugstad -- Patric Hornqvist

Teddy Blueger -- Matt Cullen -- Garrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin -- Kris Letang

Olli Maatta -- Justin Schultz

Jack Johnson -- Erik Gudbranson

Matt Murray

Casey DeSmith

Scratched: Marcus Pettersson, Zach Trotman

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