No tarot card reader or Ouija board would have predicted the New York Islanders would sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel and the rest had too much firepower and playoff experience. The Islanders were too young and lacked leadership and big time goaltending.
While millennial Penguins fans lament this most recent beat down, it only adds another chapter to the a history of Penguins stinging losses to the Isles in the playoffs. We now have a year 2000 chapter to go along with memorable losses from the 70s, 80s and 90s. With pundits still trying to make sense of this most recent shocker, it’s worth a look back at a few other bitter defeats delivered to the Pens at the hands of the Isles from previous decades.
Al Arbour Making NHL History 70s
Down three games to none, the 1975 Islanders rallied to defeat the Penguins when coach Al Arbour decided to pull Billy Smith and put in Glenn “Chico” Resch. Decisive Penguins wins in games one through three led to the decision to swap out the now Hall of Fame netminder to change the momentum.
While that move didn’t work for Viktor Tikohnov against Team USA, Arbour and the Islanders used it as a catalyst to pull off a feat only accomplished four other times. Islander icon Ed Westfall scored in OT in Game 7 to cap the unlikely down 0-3 miracle. The Mt. Everest of playoff comebacks put the Isles in elite company. For the Penguins, it’s a dubious distinction fans and players would like to forget.
John Tonelli Keeps Dynasty Alive 80s
Down 3-2 with less than three minutes left in the third period of a deciding Game 5, John Tonelli converted a bounce over the stick of defenseman Randy Carlyle to tie the game. The goal sent the game to OT where Tonelli would strike again and set the Nassau Coliseum crowd into a frenzy and propel the franchise to it’s third straight Stanley Cup.
The comeback added to JT’s resume of big time playoff goals (assist on Nystrom’s 1980 cup winner) and was the closest the Islanders came to elimination on their run to a North American record 19 straight playoff series wins. For Pens fans it was one of a list of memorable defeats.
Lemieux Foiled by David Volek 90s
Most Penguins fans can recall in vivid detail the memories from the game 7 OT loss to the Islanders when David Volek ended the Penguins chance at three straight cups in 1993. Playing without injured Pierre Turgeon, the Isles pulled off the stunning upset (From ‘Islanders Dethrone Penguins In OT’, The Washington Post, 5/15/93) against a club loaded with Hall of Famers Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, as well as coach Scotty Bowman.
Adding to the misery for Penguins fans is that the 1993 group may have been the best in franchise history and possibly one of the best in NHL history. The Islanders, led by journeymen Rich Pilon, Derek King, Ray Ferraro, Steve Thomas and Glenn Healey rallied in OT after surrendering late 3rd period goals allowing Pittsburgh to tie it. A raucous home crowd and all the momentum couldn’t bolster the Pens to victory. The game is arguably the most devastating loss ever at the old Civic Arena.
In Trotz We Trust 2000s
Six goals allowed in four games by an Islanders team that lost star John Tavares and were picked pre-season by most to miss the playoffs entirely. Malkin, Crosby and Kessel were held in check and the Penguins only led the series for less than five minutes total!
“It boils down to critical moments, making the right plays at the right time,” “We didn’t play as well as we’re capable.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan
From ‘Islanders finish off Penguins 3-1 for stunning playoff sweep’, Washington Post,- 4/16/19
This sweep was a full team effort executing a game plan with confidence designed by coach Barry Trotz. His work combined with that of GM Lou Lamoriello cannot be understated.
While many said this would be a good series, nobody predicted this type of ending and the Islanders’ domination. It will be interesting to see if this group can ride the momentum into round two and how far Trotz can guide them. For the Islanders fanbase this type of enjoyment has been a long time coming. For the Penguins, another chapter in this series history filled with disappointment and sour taste memories.