The waiting is over. The next step in the rebuild is about to be taken. The New York Islanders will begin their pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup tonight at 7:30 PM as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. It’s been long-awaited, but the Islanders are finally back in the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Islanders enter the playoffs as the eighth-seed for the first time in their last four appearances.
New York (24-17-7) finished the season on a 0-2-1 skid, but the bigger picture paints the Islanders as a formidable foe for the first-place Penguins. In their last eighteen games, the Islanders went 11-2-5. Four of those losses overtime losses came in a shootout, which will not make any appearances in the playoffs.
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders are not expected to get in the way of their Stanley Cup dream. The Penguins won the season series against their Atlantic Division rival 4-1, which would be right in line with many predictions for the upcoming seven-game-series. On paper, the match-up sits in favor of the Pens. But there is a reason they do not play the game on paper and the playoffs seem to favor strange occurrences more often than sticking to the script.
Not only did the Penguins finish 1st in the Eastern Conference, but they finished 1st in the NHL in goals scored (165). A line-up of Sidney Crosby (out tonight), Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and Jarome Iginla will not be easy for the Islanders (139 goals against for 20th in the NHL) to contain. Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald, and the rest of the Islanders’ defensive unit are going to have to do the best they can to make it easier on goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Even then, Nabokov is going to have to stand on his head and steal at least a game or two for New York to have a chance.
Nabokov started all five games against the Penguins this season and his numbers weren’t impressive. Nabby posted a .893 save percentage and a 3.04 goals-against-average in those five games, one of them in which he was pulled after two periods. There is hope, though. In seventeen career games against the Penguins, Nabby has a .925 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against-average. In the Islanders’ only win against the Penguins this season, Nabby made 37 saves on 38 shots (.978 save percentage). The Islanders will need Nabokov on his game for the entire series, and especially Game 1 for the perfect start to the battle that awaits.
For the Isles, Game 1 means everything. A win would give the Islanders their first lead in a series since the 1992-93 season. With 13 players making their playoff debuts, the Islanders will look to shock the world as early as possible, gain confidence and head back to Long Island with the series, at a minimum deadlocked at one.
26 Moulson – 91 Tavares – 24 Boyes
12 Bailey – 51 Nielsen – 21 Okposo
40 Grabner – 10 Aucoin – 13 McDonald
53 Cizikas– 16 Reasoner – 17 Martin
47 MacDonald – 3 Hamonic
14 Hickey – 11 Visnovsky
2 Streit – 37 Strait
20 Evgeni Nabokov
60 Kevin Poulin