NYI lead the series 3-2
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s shocking to see the black and yellow down late in this series. Not only are they widely considered to be a level above the Isles talent-wise, but this is a team that was second in the league in goals scored. Crosby and Malkin have been down in many series before, but we’ll have to see how they respond in 2021.
But, this team is not just about Crosby and Malkin. Left Winger Jake Guentzel probably would have recorded the most points in his career this year if it was a full season.
However, to win two straight games against this Islanders team, it’s going to be about Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines. Other than Jeff Carter, the Penguins have only gotten 1 goal from their bottom two lines in this series. While nearly half of New York’s goals have been from their lower lines.
The Penguins also need to give the Islanders a taste of their own medicine. New York makes up for their lack of talent by getting in their opponents’ face, as they’re third in the NHL in hits per game. If Pittsburgh can match the Isles’ physicality, they’ll surely have a chance to turn this series around.
(4) New York Islanders
Well, here we are for the third straight year asking ourselves: how the hell did the New York Islanders get this deep in the playoffs? Especially this year after losing their captain Anders Lee and a top four defensemen in Johnny Boychuk for the season.
The answer is simple: Head Coach Barry Trotz and GM Lou Lamoriello. Although they lack elite talent, Lamoriello has put together a fantastic all around roster that has every role player a team could need. Trotz has incorporated new schemes like the trap that allow the Islanders to dominate in games where they’re the lesser team on the ice. The trap is why New York has given up the second least amount of goals this year. In addition, New York has had a newfound toughness to them since Trotz has been there that has clearly benefited them in the postseason.
Take game 5 for example. Pittsburgh had 22 more shots on goal than the Isles. When do we ever see the Penguins lose a game after putting that much pressure on goal? Pretty much never. The Islanders won by seizing every opportunity they could get and a sensational performance by goalie Ilya Sorokin.
The rest of this series should be close and low scoring, and the Islanders only need to eke out one more to advance. The team will have all the motivation in the world as they don’t want to make game 6 the last one at Nassau Coliseum.