Islanders Leery of ‘Frustrated’ Pens, Crosby

Up 3-0, Islanders not overlooking potential comeback

Josh Rowntree
April 15, 2019 - 2:28 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) handles the puck against New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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There has been no celebrating for the Islanders… yet. 

New York leads the Penguins 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, but Islanders players on Monday were focused singularly on Tuesday night’s Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena. 

“Our job here is to prepare ourselves for tomorrow, for a big game,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “They’re going to bring everything. It’s just another game that we have to be ready for and bring our best.”

“We’ve got to understand the opportunity in front of us,” forward Matt Martin added. “They’re going to be coming and will have their crowd behind them. That’s no reason for us to not play our game or play the right way.”

The Penguins have been suffocated over the last two games by the relentless defensive speed of New York. But, winners of two of the last three Stanley Cups, the Penguins could be due for a breakout game. And Islanders players are ready.

“We’ve played against these guys a lot,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “The success that they’ve had, how they played in the regular season, their Cup runs… they don’t need much to get things going. A bounce here or there and it’s a different game, different night, different series. It can happen quickly. With that group over there, you can’t take anything for granted.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position, but we haven’t done anything yet.”

That is partially true. A 3-0 lead, including Sunday’s impressive 4-1 win in Pittsburgh, is a strong accomplishment for a group which lost its star player, John Tavares, last offseason. But following Tavares’ departure, Islanders’ first-year coach Barry Trotz brought in a philosophy that helped the Washington Capitals take down Pittsburgh in last year’s postseason.

“He’s obviously been in this situation before,” forward Mathew Barzal said of Trotz, who left Washington following a Cup win of his own in 2018. “In 30 years of coaching, you’ve kind of been through every situation and know how to handle everything. He’s been calm in this series and helped us prepare for this series.”

Trotz was able to eradicate the Capitals’ Pittsburgh demons a year ago, and now is looking to score, what many thought, would be a surprising first-round upset. His system appears to have taken its tole on the Penguins’ star players. 

“Any time things aren’t going your way, it’s hard not to get frustrated,” Lee said. “We get frustrated ourselves. But you’ve got to worry about the guy next to you, yourself, the team and do your best not to get caught up in things you can’t control.”

All the Islanders will — at least publicly — admit to thinking about is Tuesday night, knowing full well they can’t afford to awaken a team with the offensive firepower of the Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, who is without a point in the series. 

“They’re a team that can do it,” Martin said of the Penguins’ efforts to rally from a 3-0 hole, something only accomplished four times in NHL history. “Tomorrow’s game is as important as any. You don’t want to give those guys life. They have some of the best players in the world, and they probably have the best player in the world. And I don’t think he’s going to go away quietly.”

“They’re fighting for their lives, so they’re going to bring their best,” Pulock added. “So we’ve got to bring or best. They’re not going to go down easy, so we’ve got to be prepared to play our best game of the series.”