Islanders Weekly: Holding Off Penguins, Advancing to Round 2

Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.

RelatedLast Week’s Islanders Weekly

The Islanders were able to overcome deficits both in individual games and the series as a whole to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. After splitting the first two games of the series, the teams traveled to Long Island for a two-game set. The Penguins won a heartbreaking Game 3 that saw the Isles claw back from a deficit three separate times before allowing a late goal. Saturday’s Game 4 at home allowed the Isles to get back to their game plan and even the series in front of their home fans before returning to PPG Paints Arena for Game 5 on Monday.

With the series tied at two games apiece, the Isles knew they had to win Games 5 and 6 to avoid a crucial Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Despite being wildly outplayed for wide stretches, the Isles were able to back another strong outing from Ilya Sorokin to earn a Game 5 victory in 2OT. Josh Bailey found the winner in sudden death off of a costly turnover from Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry. Wednesday night’s Game 6 provided New York with an opportunity to close out the Pens in front of 9,000 fans and set a date with the Boston Bruins in the second round.

In another back-and-forth contest, New York was able to find enough offense to overpower Pittsburgh’s attack and shut them down enough to earn the edge. Timely goaltending and mostly effective special teams play allowed the Isles to earn a 5-3 win and punch their ticket into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Nelson Line Leading the Way

While the Isles’ top forward line continues to come up empty on their multiple chances, the offense is actually being carried by the second line, centered by Brock Nelson. Nelson and Bailey, two players who have been Islanders for their entire career, have elevated their games in the playoffs as they did a year ago, again on a line with Anthony Beauvillier. Beauvillier was able to find the scoresheet in every game in Round 1 except for Game 2, and his linemates continued to produce as well, with Bailey providing the overtime winner in Game 5.

New York Islanders Brock Nelson Anthony Beauvillier
New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson celebrates with Anthony Beauvillier (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

They weren’t granted many opportunities in this series, but the Isles’ power play wasn’t able to get much going against the Penguins. With these three forwards playing at a high level, more opportunities on the power play against the Bruins could spark the offense of some of the other Islanders forwards. A balanced offensive attack against a proven playoff goaltender like Tuukka Rask could be one of the keys to success for New York.

Sorokin Steps Up

Necessity forced Sorokin to start the first game of the playoffs, but it appeared as though Barry Trotz’s plan was to go with the veteran goalie in Semyon Varlamov as often as possible. The Isles’ bench boss turned to his more experienced goaltender in Games 2 and 3, both Isles losses, then returned to his rookie goaltender for a critical Game 4 on Long Island. He did not disappoint, following up his Game 1 win with three more to backstop New York to a first-round victory.

Known for riding the hot hand, Trotz should be expected to start Sorokin for as long as he continues to be effective. He made crucial saves, particularly in the several games where the Isles were fighting back from an early deficit. Allowing his team to remain in the game gave his offense to find a lucky bounce and continue to be resilient when facing difficulties in the game.

Secondary Scoring Proves Critical

While the Isles’ second and third lines were going for much of the series, the team couldn’t just rely on that handful of forwards to provide all their scoring. Especially against a balanced Penguins scoring attack, the Isles found themselves in need of a goal more often than they would’ve liked but were able to find key goals more often than not. To make matters better, many of these goals came from the depth of the team’s roster and gave the bench confidence no matter who jumped on the ice.

Ryan Pulock New York Islanders
Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After the usual suspects provided most of the scoring in the first two games of the series, depth pieces started to come through in Game 3. Cal Clutterbuck scored twice and was a team-high plus-2, while Scott Mayfield led the team with three points in the contest. Ryan Pulock, who scored two goals all regular season, had two goals in this series, both of which acted as game-winners. His second-period tally in Game 6 sent the Isles to the second round for the third straight season, something they hadn’t done since their dynasty days in the 1980s. Islanders fans will be hoping that this team will be seeing similar success in the not-so-distant future.

Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Top Performers

  • Anthony Beauvillier: 3 goals, 3 assists
  • Josh Bailey: 2 goals, 3 assists
  • Ilya Sorokin: 3 starts, 6 GA, .949 SV%

The Week Ahead

  • Round 2, Game 1 at Boston Bruins: TBD