Regional Sports

Penguins know Islanders are cup material

Isle be damned!

The Islanders swept the Penguins in four games after a 3-1 victory on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena to advance to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

No question the Islanders expected to win the best-of-seven series. Sure a sweep could have happened after watching the Penguins melt down in their 4-1 Game 3 loss to the Islanders on Penguins’ home ice. But no one anticipated an Islanders sweep when the series started.

But that’s exactly what happened. The Islanders destroyed the Penguins’ will by winning in Game 3, which the Penguins took a 1-0 lead and then seconds apart, the Islanders would tie it and lead it, and in the third period, they piled it on.

When the Penguins took the first lead of the game on a Jake Guentzel’s goal in the first period, no one sensed the Islanders would have to worry. Everyone waited for them to tie it up and take the lead eventually. That’s exactly what happened. Two minutes after Guentzel scored, Josh Bailey scored to tie the game at 1. With two minutes and six seconds remaining in that period, Brock Nelson gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead. From there, Islanders and their fans counted down before they celebrate a second-round appearance.

Face it. This game put everyone to sleep from the second period. No suspense happened. Lack of drama surfaced. The Penguins knew they were done as soon as the Islanders led. They probably knew they were done even when they lead because they knew the Islanders would find a way to come back and tie like they have in this series.

The second round can’t be any worse than the first round.

Maybe it was a good thing the Islanders had an easy series in this round, but it would have been nice if they sweated it out and made the fans nervous. Only in Game 1 it happened. Other than that, it has been all Islanders.

Rest assured, it gets harder and harder for the Islanders. It could come next round against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, which would be the matchup if the Caps beat the Carolina Hurricanes in their first round best-of-seven series.

The Capitals grind it out as well as the Islanders do, and they are much more tougher and smarter than the Islanders’ first-round opponent.

It’s surprising the Penguins offered no resistance in this series outside of Game 1. They won Stanley Cups the last two seasons prior to last season. Maybe so many Stanley Cup playoff games and shifts wore the players down here. It makes winning the Stanley Cup so unique and hard. Teams hit a rough patch after years of being worn down in the postseason. It’s no wonder dynasties in hockey don’t exist. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings gone through rough times lately despite winning Stanley Cups several years ago. It takes a toll on the mind and body of the players.

Look for the Islanders to go through that down the road.

But that’s in the future. It’s about the now. It’s about living in the moment. The opportunity for the Islanders to win the Stanley Cup exists now more than ever with the Tampa Bay Lightning being swept by the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

Islanders fans should be thinking about the possibilities now. The Islanders realize they can transform that dream to a reality after Tuesday night. When a team advances to the second round, there’s no tricks or surprises anymore. Anyone can be good enough to win the Cup. It’s what makes the NHL so unique unlike the NBA, which is predictable based on the best basketball team winning it all.

With this series against the Penguins over, the Islanders soar with confidence that they can beat anyone now. This series gave them the lift and belief they can execute if they play sound defense and receive stellar goaltending whether it’s Robin Lehner or Thomas Greiss. This team scores. Sure it may not be pretty, especially when it comes to the power play, but they find ways to score when no one expects it.

No one questions the Islanders’ postseason qualifications anymore. Ask the Penguins.

When the Islanders last made it to the second round few years ago, they hoped for some breaks against the ultra talented Lightning. This time around, they expect breaks to happen because luck is a residue of design in Branch Rickey’s words based on hard work and diligence.

The last time they made an appearance in the second round, deep down, they knew they were at the end of the road. They maximized everything out of themselves.

This time, the plan is to play all the way into June.

This series against the Penguins showed the Islanders can make a June appearance a reality.

Isle wouldn’t be damned if that happens.

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