(Sports Network) - The top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will try to take an
early lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals, as they host
the New York Islanders in Game 1 at CONSOL Energy Center.
Not only do the Penguins enter the postseason with a stacked roster, as
winners in 23 of their final 27 games, but also with a chip on their
This marks the Penguins seventh straight trip to the playoffs, but the club
will do all it can to forget its sixth. That is because Pittsburgh did not
make it out of the first round, falling in a wild six-game series to the
Philadelphia Flyers in which it was outscored 30-26.
Jordan Staal, traded this past offseason to the Carolina Hurricanes, had six
goals in the series and both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had eight points
in the six games. However, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury posted a 4.63 goals
against average and .834 save percentage as Pittsburgh failed to make it out
of the conference quarterfinals for a second season in a row.
However, the Penguins are just four years removed from winning a Stanley Cup
in 2009 over the Detroit Red Wings, who had bested the Penguins in the Finals
the previous season.
Despite a lack of recent success, Pittsburgh is battle tested for the playoffs
and Crosby doesn't think 2012 is on the team's mind.
"I don't think last year is something we've thought about too much. It's in
the past, but definitely playoffs are why you play the game," the Pens captain
said. "I think the way we played all year has prepared us. It's not like we
have to turn a switch on. We feel confident in our game and we know what we
have to do."
And with good reason. The Penguins only lost four games over the season's
final two months, a span that began with a 15-0 March. Pittsburgh locked up
the East's top seed on April 20, 11 days after clinching the Atlantic
Pittsburgh led the league in scoring with 3.38 goals per game and had the
second-best power play at 24.7 percent. That isn't surprising given the
presence of Crosby, Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang.
Crosby led the Penguins with 56 points, ending tied for third in the NHL
despite missing the season's final 12 games due to a broken jaw suffered
versus the Islanders on March 30. He returned to practice last Friday
and could return to the Penguins lineup as early as Game 1 versus New York.
Malkin (9 goals, 24 assists) and Neal (21G, 15A) both missed time with injury
as well, as did Letang and fellow defenseman Paul Martin. However, all are
back and ready for this series.
It didn't hurt that Penguins general manager Ray Shero added incredible depth
before the trade deadline, bringing in forward Jarome Iginla, former Stars
captain Brenden Morrow, winger Jussi Jokinen and big defender Douglas Murray
in separate deals that cost his club only draft picks and prospects. That
allows head coach Dan Bylsma the luxury to put Crosby, Malkin and Morrow on
The eighth-seeded Islanders, meanwhile, draw a pretty tough task as they
attempt to win their first playoff series in 20 years.
The Islanders were one of the hottest teams down the stretch, going 11-2-4
over their last 17 games to close the regular season. However, they dropped
three straight to conclude their schedule -- two of those in a shootout -- and
as a result slipped to the eighth seed to set up a meeting with the powerful
New York is happy to be making their first postseason appearance since 2007,
but odds are long for the Isles to win their first playoff series since
beating the Washington Capitals and Penguins in the 1993 postseason before
falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the conference finals.
Most eyes will be on center John Tavares, an excellent two-way player who led
the Islanders with 28 goals and 47 points in 48 games. He wrapped his fourth
NHL season since being taken first overall in the 2009 draft as a serious Hart
In addition to Tavares, a number of other key contributors will be seeing
playoff action for the first time, including forwards Matt Moulson, Frans
Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey as well as defensemen Andrew MacDonald,
who led the Isles in ice time at 23 minutes, 31 seconds per game, and Travis
"I've watched the playoffs every year since I was three years old," Tavares,
born in 1990, told his club's website. "You're going to see the intensity and
see how much playing for the Cup means to everybody. But I don't think we're
really going to understand what the whole experience is like until we get
But it could be the back end that gives New York a chance, starting with
veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. The 37-year-old tied for fourth in the NHL
with 23 wins to go along with a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save
The Islanders drew first blood in the 2013 season series with a 4-1 victory in
Pittsburgh on Jan. 29, but the final four encounters belonged to the Penguins
by a 16-5 advantage. Crosby logged nine assists in the five meetings, while
Tavares was limited to one goal and one assist during the season series.
The Penguins are seeking their first ever playoff series victory over the
Islanders, who have won all three of the previous matchups. However, all three
series were pushed to the brink, including a best-of-five series meeting in
the conference quarterfinals in 1982, when New York won its third of four
These clubs haven't met in the playoffs since the 1993 division finals.
Game 2 of this series is scheduled for Friday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins went
18-6-0 as the host this season and the Islanders had a solid 14-6-4 record as
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