Thoughts, musings, and observations from the Pens' 3-1 loss against the Islanders in Game 4.
The Pens were swept in a playoff series for the first time since the 2013 Eastern Conference Final against Boston, ending their season in abrupt and unceremonious fashion. Evgeni Malkin said this round reminded him of that matchup with the Bruins with how the Islanders were also able to limit them offensively.
"They play hard in the D-zone, 1-on-1," Malkin said. "We tried so hard, I think it was our best game of the series tonight and we still scored one goal."
He and the rest of the Penguins gave credit to the Islanders for their overall performance in the series, and said they deserved to win. They finished ahead of the Pens in the standings and earned home-ice advantage for a reason, and it showed. In addition to their stingy defensive play and winning special teams, the Islanders got opportunistic goals and incredible netminding from Robin Lehner.
"I tip my hat to the whole team," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "They played extremely well."
The Pens talked about how getting out to a good start would be huge, and they did just that. Not only did they open the scoring just 35 seconds into the game - the goal came from Jake Guentzel, who had been held pointless in each of the previous three contests.
Unfortunately, the Pens struggled to maintain leads all series long, and tonight was no different. Just a couple of shifts later, Kris Letang got caught up in the play at the blue line and the Islanders went down on a 2-on-1. Mathew Barzal fed the puck over to Jordan Eberle, who beat Matt Murray to swing momentum over to New York's side.
The sequence encapsulated some of the main issues the Pens had in the series: poor decision-making in a critical area of the rink, not getting a timely save from their goaltender and failing to hang onto momentum when they had it.
The Pens' biggest problem in the series, however, was their lack of goal scoring. They knew it was going to be a challenge to create offense against a team as defensively sound and structured as the Islanders, and they weren't able to find a way to do it enough to win. After tallying three times in Game 1, the Pens managed just one goal apiece in each of the next three games, with their power play going 1-for-11 in the series.
Chances were hard to come by, and when the Pens did get them, they weren't able to bear down and convert them. A prime example of that is during a power play in the second period, when Sidney Crosby found himself with the puck on his stick and an open net. He went down on one knee to blast it into the cage - and hit the post.
The Pens needed their best players, their difference-makers, to be just that - and they came up short in that regard.
"Playoffs is about execution and eliminating your mistakes and we didn't execute well and made a few more mistakes than they did," said Crosby, who finished with just one point - an assist - in the series. "Personally, I've got to be better. I've got to find a way to produce and contribute and find a way to help us win and I didn't do that. It's disappointing for how well we finished the year and the things we played through to get into this position. It's going to be hard to sit on this one for a while."