Resilience is Islanders’ identity
The Islanders may not be as skilled as the Penguins, but they make up for it through grit.
No one denies the Pittsburgh Penguins feature so many playmakers than the Islanders. Plus, they experienced so much playoff wars with two Stanley Cups to show for it in recent years. They earned the right to be the favorite to beat the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs.
The Islanders make a case they are a resilient team that knows how to grind out victories. They are well-prepared, and they are coached properly under Barry Trotz and his staff. They had couple of wins against the Penguins this season to even the season series at 2.
This series is about skill vs will.
In game 1 of the best-of-seven, will defeated skill in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Penguins Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
When the Penguins tied the game at 1 in the first period, the Islanders responded by taking a 2-1 lead in that period. They came through in the third period by taking a 3-2 lead on a Nick Leddy’s slapshot after the Penguins outplayed them in the second period to tie the game at 2.
The Penguins continued to push the Islanders’ limit by tying the game at 3 when Justin Schultz fired a shot past Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner with two minutes and nine remaining in regulation.
So much for celebrating a victory. Overtime playoff hockey arrived, and it meant doing it the hard way.
The Islanders and their fans did not wait long for a playoff victory. It ended quickly when Mat Barzal attempted a shot on a 2-on-1 breakaway that Josh Bailey finished it by putting the puck past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.
Bedlam took place at the old barn. The Islanders whooped it up with the fans that waited to celebrate a playoff victory for the first time in four years at the Coliseum.
No one could have been surprised the Islanders came back to win. It’s what they have done all season. It became their trademark. No panic took place in the Islanders locker room since they know what to do when a team takes the lead or ties it. They demonstrated that in the last two periods of the game.
The Islanders liked their chances to get it done in overtime for a reason. They showed their mettle beyond the first two periods of the game. That attitude served them well against the Penguins.
If the Penguins learned something from their Game 1 matchup against the Islanders, they know this first-round series won’t be easy. If they advanced, it won’t be because they survived and advanced. They would earn it.
They also know it won’t be easy against this Islanders team like it was in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they easily dispatched an upstart Islanders team in six games. A seven-game series could be in the making if Game 1 serves as an indicator.
The Islanders believe they match up well this time around against the Penguins because of their goaltenders. They like their chances to win with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss starting.
Lehner put the Islanders in a position to win this game because all of the saves he made in the second and third period. He denied Evgeni Malkin several times in the third period. He stoned Phil Kessel several times in the second period. This could have been a blowout early if he was not at his game. Overall, he stopped 41 shots.
Lehner’s performance was even impressive since the defense left him out to dry so many time in this game. The Penguins whacked so many pucks in after they received chances after chances, and he came through.
Lehner earned the right to start the next game and Game 3.
Make no mistake. The Islanders had to win this game after putting so much effort. It would have been devastating had they lost after leading several times in the game just to lose in the end. They need all the confidence they can get against this Penguins team.
The Penguins can survive a loss like this. They have been there before. They will bounce back.
The Islanders couldn’t afford to take that chance, even if they showed how resilient they are this season.
Resilience may not mean much in this series.
But in Game 1, it did.