Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins pauses following the game winning goal by Jordan Eberle #7 of the New York Islanders in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Bob Grove: Penguins Must Win Games 3 And 4 If They Want To Win The Series

Bob Grove
April 12, 2019 - 11:20 pm

The Penguins came into what they knew would be a hard-fought first-round series against the New York Islanders with a few advantages. Namely, a core of players – half their lineup – who had won nine of their last 10 playoff series and could bring that experience to bear at critical times in the series. More proven playoff goal-scorers capable of making big plays at big times. A power play that had been decidedly better over the course of the regular season and was, in fact, one of the league’s best.

Friday’s 3-1 Game 2 loss to the Islanders, however, not only gave New York a 2-0 series lead heading to Pittsburgh Sunday but firmly flipped every one of those anticipated advantages on its head.

It was the Islanders, not the Penguins, who turned a tight game into a victory in the decisive third period. It was Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey getting the big goals, not Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Jake Guentzel or Phil Kessel. It was Matt Barzal, in his second Stanley Cup playoff game, setting both goals up. It was New York’s power play, not Pittsburgh’s, putting the game out of reach.

And as Game 2 ended in a series of scrums, the Penguins were not only in a very, very precarious position but, even worse, had sent a message to the Islanders that their approach has Pittsburgh completely frustrated.

Both games in this series have been tied heading to the third period, but the Islanders have now outscored the Penguins after the second period, 4-1. That is the exclamation point on a very simple idea: when these first two games were on the line, the Islanders were more desperate to win.

Tortured by their own defensive zone mistakes in Game 1, the Penguins Friday opened the door to a 2-0 New York series lead by repeatedly taking bad penalties and giving the Islanders six power plays. Pittsburgh looked great killing off the first five, but the sixth, a tripping penalty to Patric Hornqvist, led to Bailey’s power play goal midway through the final period and a 3-1 lead. There’s no question playing 9:59 of the game short-handed took something out of the Penguins.

Related: Islanders beat Penguins 3-1 in Game 2

New York came into this series with three power play goals in its last 22 regular season games, making its power play the second-worst of any of the 16 teams in the playoffs. New York has scored two power play goals in two games. The Penguins, who got just two chances Friday, have one. Bailey and Eberle have two goals each in the series; Crosby and Guentzel don’t have a point between them. 

Matt Murray was very good in Game 2, but it didn’t matter because the Penguins could not consistently move the game away from the corners and the boards, where the Islanders want to play it, and into areas of open ice where their skill can make a difference. Islanders’ goaltender Robin Lehner was presenting a lot of rebound chances throughout Game 2, but the Penguins either weren’t quick enough to get to them or misfired when they did. Getting to loose pucks, in general, was a problem for Pittsburgh on Friday.

After a very good Game 1, Malkin took two penalties in the opening period and didn’t have a shot until the third. Jack Johnson, inserted into the lineup after being a surprising healthy scratch in Game 1, also took two penalties in the first period. Crosby followed with another early in the third. And so it went until finally, inevitably, the Islanders’ power play delivered a goal in the third.

Kessel and Malkin are the only Pittsburgh forwards who have scored in the series, and Lehner, a playoff starter for the first time in his career, enters Game 3 with a GAA under 2.00. Erik Gudbranson got the lone Pittsburgh goal Friday, and that is not a good sign. 

The Penguins have no choice, realistically, but to win both Games 3 and 4 at home if they want to win the series. The pressure on them is building, while the Islanders look like they’re having the time of their lives. And, so far, they’ve earned it.