Islanders Move On With a Sweep of the Penguins

PITTSBURGH — The Islanders’ turnaround season is heading to the second round of the playoffs.

Jordan Eberle scored for the fourth straight game, Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots and the Islanders finished off Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins with a clinical 3-1 win in Game 4 on Tuesday night to pull off a stunning sweep.

“It’s not like we came in and thought we were going to win it in four games,” said Lehner, who stopped 135 of the 141 shots he faced in the series. “But we felt confident coming in playing against these guys. We really did.”

Josh Bailey set up Brock Nelson’s go-ahead goal late in the first period and added an empty-net score with 38 seconds remaining as the Islanders easily captured the franchise’s second playoff series victory in 26 years. The Islanders now await a winner between Washington and Carolina.

The Islanders trailed for less than five minutes across four games against the Penguins, whose 13th straight postseason appearance ended quietly. Pittsburgh managed just six goals in the series, including Jake Guentzel’s first of the postseason 35 seconds into the game.

It wasn’t nearly enough to stop the Islanders. New York allowed the fewest goals in the league during the regular season, and then backed it up over 12-plus periods of sound hockey.

The Penguins did their best to stay loose while trying to avoid getting swept in the first round for the second time in franchise history. The team that began the playoffs with hopes of capturing its third Stanley Cup in four years looked ready to bounce back. For a couple of minutes anyway.

Guentzel found space in the slot and ripped a shot past Lehner 35 seconds into the game for the first goal of the series by Pittsburgh’s top line. The 574th consecutive home sellout crowd buzzed. The Penguins had the momentum and the lead.

Just as they did at every critical point during what became a lopsided series, the Islanders responded almost immediately. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang whiffed while trying to pinch into the New York zone, creating a 2-on-1 the other way, and Eberle tied the game just 1:34 after Guentzel’s goal.

“It’s kind of been the staple,” said Eberle, who had four goals in four games. “They score and we’re able to respond in a timely fashion. Just a lot of commitment at the end of the game, some blocks, some huge sticks preventing and a big kill. That’s the Islander way to win.”

The Islanders settled in and kept it simple, just as they did in posting the franchise’s best regular-season record in 35 years —limiting chances and relying heavily on Coach Barry Trotz’s system of pragmatism and patience.

The Islanders weathered Pittsburgh’s early push and took the lead with 1:54 to go in the first period when Nelson slipped behind Penguins forward Garrett Wilson and darted to the net. Bailey’s pass from the below the goal line arrived right as Nelson flashed in front of Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray. Nelson flicked a shot over Murray’s right pad, and New York was back in control.

Another stellar defensive effort and a little bit of puck luck helped. Crosby hit the left post in the middle of the second period, and Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield bailed out Lehner by making a save with his left leg on a point-blank shot by Phil Kessel.

And that was it. When Bailey’s flip went the length of the ice and into the empty net, the Islanders’ bench erupted and the Penguins trudged toward an offseason that could lead to significant changes.

“It’s a tough loss for us, but we have to learn,” Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin said.

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