Penguins look to dig out of hole at home vs. Isles
The New York Islanders held serve and did it in a favorite, nostalgic place, winning the first two games of their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins at raucous Nassau Coliseum.
Young center Mathew Barzal has enjoyed his first postseason experience as much as those vocal fans have digged cheering the Islanders to a 2-0 series lead.
"I just love the intensity out there," Barzal said. "Being in the playoffs, every game is so big and every play matters so much. I just love how focused our group is and just dialing in to a game."
The series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 Sunday with a chance for New York to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
This is the first time the Islanders have held a 2-0 lead in a best-of-7 series since the last time they won a Stanley Cup, 36 years ago.
"We're not relying on some mystical history from over 30 years ago. It's about what we do now," said energy line mainstay Cal Clutterbuck.
The Islanders have been physical and strong defensively and have prompted the Penguins to take penalties and make mistakes with the puck, matching their regular-season identity.
They also have held Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who reached 100 points in the regular season, without a point and to just three shots through two games.
"We're trying to stay above (Crosby) and make him go through people," Clutterbuck said. "He's probably the best player in the world offensively, and he's hard to contain, but if we have people between him and the net and take away his time and space, it gives us our best chance."
Crosby's left winger, 40-goal scorer Jake Guentzel, has the same stat line as Crosby.
"I'm not disappointed in those guys," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "They're too good. They're too important for our team. I would never be disappointed in those guys. I know how hard they compete. I know how much they care."
The Penguins' other superstar center, Evgeni Malkin, has a team-high three points, a goal and two assists, but he has been goaded into taking three penalties, and his misplay in the neutral zone Friday led to the Islanders' go-ahead goal.
Malkin pointed out something that has seemed apparent - that the ice conditions were poor at Nassau Coliseum. Perhaps they will be better at PPG Paints Arena. Regardless, Malkin remained resolved.
"They won two games. Why can't we win two games?" he said. "It's not easy, but we need to stay together.
"We have a great team. I believe in this group. I believe we can change (momentum). Win one game, (and) we'll see what's going on."
Pittsburgh, chasing its third Stanley Cup in four years, has won nine of 10 playoff series and has never before been down 2-0 under Sullivan.
"The message, as I said to the players after the game (Friday), is it's the first team to win four games, not two," Sullivan said. "We've got to go back home. We've got to control what we can, and we've got to win one game. And we'll go from there."
The Islanders expect Pittsburgh to make adjustments.
"It's only going to get tougher, obviously," said New York's Josh Bailey, who has scored in each game, including in overtime in Game 1. "We've got to expect their best in Game 3 and make sure we're ready."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 14, 2019