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How The Islanders Froze Penguins And What’s Next

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Ilya Sorokin

I said Penguins in six. I Didn’t sense the New York Islanders could simply “flip the switch” and find their game after limping to the finish line.

I was wrong.

To be fair, New York was outplayed for a solid stretch of their six-game series with Pittsburgh, but they did end up locating their mojo and playing two of their best games in Game 4 and Game 6. Also, to be honest, we did say that goaltending would be the difference. We merely didn’t correctly predict which goaltender that would be.

Is this kid really a rookie?

“I thought we showed a lot of resiliency. We were chasing the game and I thought, when the game was 2-1, we got a huge save that gave us momentum. When it was 5-3, we got a huge save and it settled us right down.” head coach Barry Trotz said after the 5-3 Game 6 clincher.

Of course, he’s talking about rookie Ilya Sorokin, who made a surprise game-one start in place of injured Semyon Varlamov, then replaced the Islanders’ starter in Game 4 after two shaky showings. He showed calm, poise, and most importantly, rebound control in posting a .943 save percentage against a menacing offensive team that claimed tons of puck possession and zone time.

Some might argue Sorokin’s extended time in the KHL means he’s not necessarily a ‘rookie, even though the official league definition applies. But, the quality of shooters and intense parity when looking at the two leagues is incomparable. Islanders fans have waited a long time for him to make his debut, and once he got acclimated after some early season hiccups, he has been fantastic.

It’s his crease to lose at the moment.

New York Islanders Brock Nelson

UNIONDALE, NY – MAY 26: New York Islanders Defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) and New York Islanders Left Wing Anthony Beauavillier (18) react to New York Islanders Center Brock Nelson (29) scoring a goal during the second period of Game Six of the First Round in the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders on May 26,2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

B’s just buzzing around

While Mathew Barzal was struggling to find open space against the Penguins focused defensive approach, the Islanders second line bailed them out again. Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey combined for nine goals and 10 assists in the series, completely outplaying the Penguins top line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust (4-3-7).

Yes, much of the credit there goes to the defensive pair of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, but it can’t be understated how much the Islanders benefited from the offensive production of what has been their finest playoff line for two years running.

Bailey notched the overtime winner in game five, and Nelson paced the attack in game six, scoring two and missing an empty net for what would have been a playoff hat trick. Beauviller, once again, continues to score big goals in the biggest moments, a trait that many truly don’t possess when the going gets tough. 

Jarry was most generous

It must have seemed like Christmas to Islanders fans after analyzing the performance of Penguins goaltender Tristian Jarry. 

Playing to an .888 save percentage in the series, Jarry produced some huge mistakes in the most critical moments. None graver than passing the puck directly to Bailey on the game-five, double-overtime winner, rather than making a simple play to the boards. I’m convinced that was a series ender, not just a game ender.

His lack of confidence carried over to his game six performance, where he gave up what could be considered weak goals to Kyle Palmieri, Nelson and Ryan Pulock. Had Casey DeSmith been healthy, there is no doubt Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan would have gone that route, likely for game five and beyond.

A different challenge lies ahead

The Bruins are a much different team as the Islanders get ready for game one tonight in Boston. 

They send out a top line that could be considered on par, if not better, than Pittsburgh. David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combined for eight goals and five assists in their five-game demolition of the Washington Capitals. And they are no doubt better defensively, simply due to the remarkable talents of their top center.

Complimentary scoring is there too, with Jake DeBrusk waking from a season-long slumber and the trade deadline addition of speedy Taylor Hall. The defense after Charlie McEvoy might make you ask, ‘who is that guy’, but they will no doubt be better than what the Penguins trotted out there.

They are big, bruising and physical. Play a north-south game comparable to New York.

And yeah, I’m highly confident that Tuuka Rask will outplay Jarry by a tremendous margin.

I’m done making predictions. The Islanders dominated the regular season series between these two teams early, winning the first five before dropping the last three. 

New York showed resilience, pride and character when they clearly weren’t up to pace early in their first-round series, before seemingly finding their stride late. Boston is clearly playing their best hockey of the season. Should be a grinding, fun series between two teams who play a similar style.

Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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