Well, that was a fun first round, wasn't it?
Not what many in Pittsburgh and the NHL thought they would see much of a series after the Penguins welcomed the young Islanders to the playoffs with a 5-0 shellacking in game one. It seemed like every beat writer, radio host and average Joe hockey fan was ready to change their prediction from Penguins in five to Penguins in a sweep. Those predictions held true for about 48 hours.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders was a one versus eight matchup. If we have learned from the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, seeding at times doesn't mean anything. There were points in the series when you couldn't tell the Penguins were the one seed.
Respect was lacking for the Islanders coming into the playoffs. New York has been tarnished by poor ownership/management and it's own community in Nassau County saying no to a new arena on Long Island while they will flee the asbestos filled Nassau County Coliseum for an arena in Brooklyn not designed initially for hockey. You might have had sympathy for the Islanders, but you probably didn't respect them coming in.
A young, fast New York Islanders team that made the slightly older, but highly talented Penguins look a step or two behind in four of the six games in this series. They were gritty. They crashed the net, took advantage of mistakes by Pittsburgh and capitalized. They won game four and almost game six by making the Penguins pay for bad turnovers.
In the end, Pittsburgh found a way to win game six, despite being out shot, out hit and outplayed for the first 45 minutes of Saturday's game. Finding ways to win while being dominated. Good teams can do it. Pittsburgh did.
The Islanders have a bright future as a division contender and a playoff team. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby even said it after the game. Of course, there might be a change in goal for the Islanders, but everything else has fallen into place for the young faces in Uniondale.
A lot of people after game one compared this Islanders squad to the 2007 Penguins that made their first playoff appearance in six years at the time. They were humbled by the Ottawa Senators, and eliminated in five games. The Senators went on to win the Eastern Conference and lost to Anaheim in the Final.
This Islanders team, is in some ways, like the '07 Penguins. Only the Islanders took the Pens to six and almost sent the series back to Consol Energy Center for a game seven. Also, the Penguins may not be the clear favorite in the East anymore.
They were one of the hotter teams coming into the playoffs, and the Islanders did not play like an eight seed. Games one and five? Yeah, they kind of did. But the other four games saw momentum swing in the way of New York. Their ability to break into the offensive zone, interrupt the Penguins entrance into their zone made it a tougher series on the conferences top seed.
The Penguins were able to break out of the first round for the first time since 2010, which for Dan Bylsma and the rest of the organization calls for a sigh of relief. They won't see the same team in Ottawa in round two, but playing dumb hockey will catch up to them and hurt them as they go forward against teams with playoff experience.
Hats off to the Islanders. A worthy adversary for the Penguins and the rest of the new division next season. They have earned a lot of respect. Much like how Penguins fans felt after 2007, there must be a good feeling for the future of Islanders hockey.
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