The New York Islanders, playing old-school defensive hockey implemented by coach Barry Trotz, completed a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
The Islanders kept the Penguins top scorers in check for the entire series. The Islanders had one of the best defensive teams in the NHL this season, which is why the Isles went from the doghouse to the penthouse in just one season.
Most of the turnaround is credited to head coach Barry Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals last season. The Caps didn’t want to give Trotz a pay raise, but the Islanders were desperate for his help. Trotz bolted from DC and headed out to Long Island, where he hoped to wake up the ghosts of the Islanders championship teams from the 1970s.
With sensational goaltending and the addition of a couple key veterans, Trotz whipped the Islanders into shape. They don’t play sexy hockey, but when you grind out each possession you win playoff games. The Islanders advance to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since 1993.
Stellar Goaltending on Long Island
The Islanders won 48 games this year, but they were in every game they lost thanks to top-notch goaltending. The team allowed only 2.33 goals per game, which was tops in the NHL. Robin Lehner won 25 games with a 2.13 goals against average.
“It’s not like we came in and thought we were going to win it in four games,” said Robin Lehner. “But we felt confident coming in playing against these guys. We really did.”
Lehner stepped up in the postseason. He recorded 135 saves in four games, allowing only six goals in four games. He stopped 32 shots in Game 4, allowing only one score all night in the series-clinching game. The rest of the defense helped shut down the biggest penguin of them all, Sidney Crosby.
The Islanders also elevated their penalty kill. They gave up 11 penalties, but successfully killed ten of them and allowing only a single power play goal.
Hard-Nosed Hockey All Year
The Islanders were underdogs all season, but not in the eyes of their coach. Sure, the team needed refinement and discipline, but Trotz got the most out of his team. Unlike the Tampa Lightning who breezed through the regular season and then got stomped in the postseason by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Islanders were battling every night this season.
“A lot of it is we had a good regular season,” said Valtteri Filppula. “We kind of played playoff-type hockey all year, that’s the way we needed to play. So, I think coming in we haven’t needed to change too many things. That’s a big help.”
“This a special group,” said winger Matt Martin. “We have as good a chance as anybody.”
The Islanders will face the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricane Series. The Alex Ovechkin and the Caps are up 2-1. If the Caps advance, then Trotz will be up against his old team… the same team, he took to the Stanley Cup finals and won the Cup.
“That’s a special group that will always be a part of me,” said Trotz. “If we end up playing them, they’re the opposition.”
The New York Islanders saw their Stanley Cup odds shoot up after the sweep of Pittsburgh. According to numerous sportsbooks, Islanders are a consensus 8/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, the defending champion Washington Caps are the new favorites at 6/1 odds to win the Cup.