Five Takeaways: Islanders Advance to Second RoundMay 27, 2021
By Cory Wright | New York Islanders (@WrightsWay)
Next stop, second round.
The New York Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night.
The series win marked the Islanders fifth playoff series victory under Head Coach Barry Trotz and General Manager Lou Lamoriello since they took over in 2018.
The expectations for the club have come a long way from when making the playoffs felt like a big step forward. Unlike the exuberance from winning their first series in 23 years back in 2016, winning a First Round series has become business as usual for the Islanders. The Islanders have now advanced to the second round for a third-straight season - a first since they did so seven-straight years from 1979-85.
"It's been quite the journey," Brock Nelson said. "It just goes back to this is a special place and a special group. Everybody wants to go out there and win and compete for a Stanley Cup and raise it. To have seen some progress and getting close and having runs it's awesome. It's fun and a great place to do it. We're trying to get to go all the way."
The Islanders have gained a lot of playoff experience over that span and have learned how to close out series and keep things in perspective. As JG Pageau likes to say; the Islanders are happy, but not satisfied.
Before they ship up to Boston for a date with the Bruins, here are five takeaways from a First-Round romp over the Penguins.
SOROKIN SHINES IN FIRST PLAYOFF SERIES:
If the NHL didn't know about Ilya Sorokin before the Isles-Pens series, they sure do now.
Sorokin was spectacular for the Islanders and staked a claim as the team's most impactful player in the First Round.
Sorokin went 4-0, stopping 150 of 159 shots in his first playoff series, backstopping wins in Games 1, 4, 5 and 6.
The rookie goaltender didn't look fazed at all by the big stage of the NHL playoffs, leaning on his extensive big game resume from some deep runs and a championship in the KHL playoffs. He gave Trotz a smile when the coach told him he would start Game 1 and seemed at ease under fire stopping 17-of-18 shots in the first period of Game 1. He didn't have the gaffes of his peers with a similar lack of NHL playoff experience and wasn't flapped when the Islanders went back to him in Game 4.
He had plenty of highlight-reel saves, outwaiting Sidney Crosby when Game 4 was tied 0-0. He stoned Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway in Game 6 and caught a Crosby shot with his skate in Game 1.
His best game was a 48-save performance in Game 5, keeping the Islanders in the contest long enough for Josh Bailey to pot the double-OT winner. The Islanders don't win that game without him and he followed it up with a fine effort in Game 6.
"Outstanding, I could use all of the [words] you want to write," Trotz said of Sorokin after Game 5. "They all will apply."
The Islanders will need both Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov to make a long playoff run. They've long maintained confidence in both, but after adding a playoff series win to Sorokin's resume, the confidence in the rookie has only bolstered.
BEAUVILLIER-NELSON-BAILEY LEAD WAY OFFENSIVELY:
The Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey trio, all Bridgeport alumni, was back in its playoff form in the First Round.
The line combined for 19 points (9G, 10A) in the series, with Beauvillier netting seven (3G, 4A), while Bailey and Nelson recorded six apiece (3G, 3A). They finished as three of the Islanders' top-four scorers and stepped up in the biggest moments, headlined by Bailey's double-OT winner in Game 5. Beauvillier had a three-game goal streak to close out the series while Nelson had two goals in the clincher.
"We're trying to go out there and contribute offensively and be responsible defensively," Nelson said. "Playoffs is a different animal. It might not always be your night. We always talk about the depth that we have in here. Different lines can get it done, give us some momentum or win us a game. I've been fortunate to play with these guys for quite a while, have some chemistry. We capitalized on some chances. You just try to go out there and take advantage of those moments and try to be a difference maker."
Their best game came in the clincher, accounting for three of the Islanders five goals and combining for eight points in the process. Their best moment tied the score 3-3, with Beauvillier carrying the puck in the zone and dishing to Bailey, who sent a slap pass across the ice to Nelson for his first of two on the night.
It's reminiscent of their play in the bubble, where Bailey led the team with 20 points, while Nelson and Beauvillier recorded a team-leading nine goals apiece. Bailey's 32 playoff points are ninth-most in the NHL since 2018-19.
NEVER SAY DIELANDERS:
One thing the Islanders didn't do in the series was lead, only being ahead for 1:06:48 over six-plus games, but despite trailing in a large part of the series, they were never out of any contest.
The Islanders weathered an early storm in Game 1 and came back from a 2-1 deficit before ultimately winning 4-3 in OT.
In Game 3, they came back from three separate deficits, including a 3-1 hole to start the third period in what ultimately was a 5-4 loss - and possibly the most purely entertaining period of the season.
The hung around again in Game 5, holding on as the Penguins outshot them 50-28, including 20-4 in the second period, staying alive long enough for Bailey to bury an OT winner. It was a character win, absorbing a big punch from Pittsburgh and finding a way.
"We haven't lead in this series a whole lot," Trotz said. "That is a mental grind for the group and that tells me a lot about them. They just stuck with it. They understand the process. They don't deviate too much from it. We just find a way to keep on task. When you do that you can do a lot as a group."
They staged a comeback in the clincher as well, coming back from 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 deficits against a desperate Penguins squad, sticking with it before surging with three goals on three consecutive shots. It was no easy feat considering the Penguins were 23-4-2 in the regular season when scoring first.
"Special group that we have, lots of character and lots of leadership," Beauvillier said. "We just stuck with it."
After going a year without fans, Nassau Coliseum was ready to rock in the playoffs.
So were the fans, who made 6,800 - and eventually 9,000 - sound just as loud as a capacity crowd would in the before times.
They cheered for everything, goals, hits, saves, brouhahas and even broke out in cheers when Trotz, who encouraged the fans to get rowdy, walked out onto the ice for Game 6. When Sorokin's shutout bid in Game 4 was spoiled with 2:35 to play, the crowd broke out in a spontaneous "Il-ya! Il-ya!" chant to lift up their goaltender. In Game 6, they sang "Happy Birthday" to Mat Barzal.
After a long year of isolation, it was the perfect release, right down to the New York Jets offensive line chugging beers to get the crowd fired up.
As much as they energized the Islanders, they made the building a hostile environment for the Penguins and it should only get louder if the capacity increases. Even if it doesn't, the decibel level is befitting of a last stand for Fort Neverlose.
"Lots of history in this building and there's probably quite a few fans here tonight that witnessed the dynasty back in the '80s and what that winning feels like," Nelson said. "It was fun to get it done tonight in front of them. This is one step and we're trying to make some history of our own here and put a nice run together here at the Coli."