The Pittsburgh Penguins have been defeated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing game six to the New York Islanders by a 5-3 score-line. For the second time in the last three years, the Isles were able to neutralize Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, and send the Pens packing. The game six matchup took place at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, and ended in handshakes, sending the Pens packing, and the Isles to a round two date with the Boston Bruins.
Captain Sidney Crosby criticized his own play postgame, “It’s such a small margin for error. I feel like I didn’t make a big play, whether it’s overtime or adding to a lead when we’re up 2-1. I look at some chances I had – those kinds of things are so important and you can’t overlook the importance of those.”
Despite their best efforts and being the far more dominant team in game six, and throughout the series, the Penguins ran into a wall in rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin who has continued his run of stellar performances. The Russian goaltender has yet to lose a playoff game, going 4-0 with a 1.95 goals-against average through his first four career postseason starts. The series, as expected, came down to goaltending, and it was Sorokin for the Isles who outplayed Tristan Jarry at the other end of the rink, who struggled yet again in game six. Regardless of the criticism placed on either side, the clear-cut story of this series is the 25-year-old Isles netminder robbing the Penguins time and time again, leading the Isles to victory.
The two sides traded two goals each in the first period, with Jeff Carter striking first just over a minute into the game. Anthony Beauvillier had the response at the 5:16 mark where he beat Jarry on a backhand over his glove-side. Jake Guentzel scored his first goal of the series on the power play to regain the Penguins lead, but just over a minute later, Kyle Palmieri had the answer to level the score headed into the intermission.
The second period started with another early period goal courtesy of Jason Zucker who tipped a Cody Ceci point shot past Sorokin to put the division winners back in front. However, the Isles scored three goals in just under three minutes to get their 9,000 fan stadium loud and behind them, two from Brock Nelson and another from Ryan Pulock to seal the Pens fate. Nelson’s second goal seemed to squeak right through a rattled Jarry, another costly goal allowed by the postseason inexperienced netminder. The goals put the Islanders up 5-3 after two, and that score would hold to complete the series victory over the Penguins.
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The Pens threw another 37 shots on net versus the Isles 24, and despite being the better team, struggled to get past a hot goaltender. Additionally, the Penguins struggled to tighten up defensively against a lethal Islanders counter-attack that they always seemed to be dangerous on. The Islanders had better goaltending and were able to capitalize on their chances, while the Penguins failed to do so, and that will remain their greatest downfall in this series to close out their season.
Coach Mike Sullivan postgame: “Five of six games that we played, we felt really good about our team game. There was one of them we would have liked a better team effort. But for the most part, there was a lot of good hockey being played on both sides. That’s the nature of playoff hockey.”
The East Division Champions’ first round exit is a disappointing one after such a difficult and impressive season, and the team will surely be back hungrier for more next season.