NHL playoffs first-round preview: No. 1 Penguins vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
The Penguins, who won 24 of 30 games to close an abbreviated NHL season, are the heavy favorite. However, the Islanders' strength is a group of forwards that blend skill and speed — and opponents with that mix up front have provided problems for the Penguins each of the past three postseasons.
The Penguins' unofficial mantra is “Four Wins” — the number necessary to claim a playoff series. The Penguins have lost three straight postseason series, each to a lower-seeded opponent.
No opponent has ruined more moments for the Penguins than the Islanders, and this is the 20th anniversary of one of the NHL's great playoff upsets — Islanders over Penguins in 1993.
History is not on the Penguins' side, but they a big advantage in depth and recent playoff experience.
The Penguins went 4-1-0 against the Islanders. They won the past four games by a combined score of 16-5 after a 4-1 loss to the Islanders at home Jan. 29.
Penguins: RW Pascal Dupuis (5 goals), C Sidney Crosby (9 assists), Crosby (9 points); Islanders: RW Brad Boyes (2 goals), C Frans Nielsen (4 assists), Nielsen (4 points).
Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury (1-1-0, .882 save percentage, 3.60 goals-against average), Tomas Vokoun (3-0-0, .970 save percentage, 0.90 goals-against average); Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov (1-4-0, .893 save percentage, 3.04 goals-against average)
The Islanders have won all three postseason series against the Penguins.
1975 Stanley Cup quarterfinal: Islanders 4, Penguins 3
New York rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to shock the Penguins, who dropped Game 7 at Civic Arena, 1-0. Oddly, this rare kind of defeat — only three NHL clubs have ever blown a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series — is probably not the most crushing loss the Islanders have handed the Penguins.
1982 Stanley Cup preliminary round: Islanders 3, Penguins 2
Islanders winger John Tonelli scored the tying goal and won Game 5 in overtime. His efforts help stave off elimination for his twice-defending Cup champions and ruin a feel-good story. The Penguins had rallied from a 0-2 series deficit and carried a 3-1 lead into the third period of Game 5. This loss really hit hard, but …
1993 Patrick Division final: Islanders 4, Penguins 3
The Penguins were the two-time champions. They had set an NHL record for 17 straight regular-season wins and paced the league with 119 points. Dynasty was the talk of Pittsburgh, but disbelief followed as the Islanders won Games 6 and 7 — the latter at Civic Arena, on winger David Volek's goal at 5:16 of overtime. Penguins captain Mario Lemieux never played for the Cup again.
What about Sid?
Crosby missed the final 12 regular-season games with a broken jaw. There is no timeframe for his return. He, Dupuis and LW Chris Kunitz combined for nine goals and 23 points against the Islanders in the regular season. If he does play, will it be with Dupuis and Kunitz, or does coach Dan Bylsma bring RW Jarome Iginla into the mix?
Are the Islanders too green?
This series is not dissimilar from one the Penguins played in 2007. Then facing a veteran-heavy, playoff-tested Ottawa squad with a chip on its shoulder, the Penguins were overmatched and bowed in five games. A talented Islanders nucleus, led by MVP candidate C John Tavares, has never known playoff pressure.