The 16-win journey for one team begins. The 2021 NHL playoffs began on Saturday night despite headwinds of an international pandemic that constantly threatened the season and players’ well-being. Despite closed borders and unique circumstances, we made it. The Pittsburgh Penguins will begin their Stanley Cup chase against the New York Islanders Sunday at noon, or because of national TV, probably closer to 12:20 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.
UPDATE: Penguins winger Brandon Tanev was officially activated Sunday morning.
Both teams have been off this week while other teams finished up their schedules. Rust could play a factor, too.
“The upside was we gave guys an opportunity to get a chance to get some recovery and some rest. Some of our guys that have been banged up have had an opportunity to recover,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ve had some practice time, which we haven’t had a whole lot of over the last month of the season because of the amount of games that we played. And so we tried to utilize the practice time to get better in certain areas.”
The Penguins won the first and only East Division regular-season title there will ever be. The NHL is going back to the Metropolitan Division next season, but the Penguins earned the No. 1 seed in the division and home-ice advantage.
This season, the Penguins were 6-2 against New York and won four of those games in regulation. From Tristan Jarry’s mid-February theft to the Penguins zooming past the New York forecheck for a 6-3 win on March 27, the Pittsburgh Penguins have had the better of the season series.
The New York Islanders preview is here from NYI Hockey Now.
Tristan Jarry will start in goal for the Penguins. This will be the first time he starts an NHL playoff series. He also won’t have a safety net. Backup goalie Casey DeSmith is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Maxime Lagace is the backup until DeSmith returns.
Semyon Varlamov returned to practice on Saturday and is expected to start for the New York Islanders.
UPDATE: Ilya Sorokin led the Islanders on the ice for warmups. It appears he will get the start.
Evgeni Malkin’s status is officially a game-time decision, but he did not participate in line rushes or join the top power play on Saturday.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Regular Season Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Rickard Rakell||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jason Zucker||Jeff Carter||Danton Heinen|
|Brock McGinn||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Mike Matheson||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mark Friedman||Chad Ruhwedel|
|Expected Islanders Lines|
|Leo Komarov||Mathew Barzal||Jordan Eberle|
|Anthony Beauvillier||Brock Nelson||Josh Bailey|
|Kyle Palmieri||J-G Pageau||Oliver Wahlstrom|
|Matt Martin||Casey Czikas||Cal Clutterbuck|
|Adam Pelech||Ryan Pulock|
|Nick Leddy||Scott Mayfield|
|Andy Greene||Noah Dobson|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||15.1% (11-73) 27th NHL||92.2% (5-64) 1st NHL|
|Anaheim Ducks||26.3% (20-76) 5th NHL||86.3% (10-76) 3rd NHL|
What to Watch
This will be a tactical chess match, but if the Penguins get the upper hand, they could bury the Islanders with speed. The Islanders can’t keep up, and that first goal will be crucial.
If New York gets the opening goal, they can (continue to) lock down. If the Penguins get it, New York has to come out of its shell.
Expect New York to show a forecheck but quickly pull back to create traffic in the neutral zone. New York head coach Barry Trotz has successfully instructed his players to play the waiting game–clog up the ice and wait for the Penguins to implode.
The Penguins defensemen will have the opportunity to skate with the puck, and the Penguins forwards will have the task of retrieving it, both in the offensive and defensive zones. New York will go to the net to make life uncomfortable for Tristan Jarry, and the Penguins should forget about the rush until they establish puck possession and loosen the game.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
-Mike Sullivan has nine playoff series victories, which are the most in Penguins franchise history. His 39 playoff wins are four shy of tying Dan Bylsma’s team record (43).
-This is the Penguins’ 15th consecutive playoff appearance. It is also the longest active playoff appearance streak among major North-American professional sports leagues.
-Islanders coach Barry Trotz has beaten the Penguins in the last two times his teams have faced the Penguins in the playoffs (2018 Capitals, 2019 Islanders).
-Sidney Crosby (3-6-9) and Kris Letang (4-5-9) shared the scoring lead for the Penguins versus the Islanders in 2020-21. No NHL players had more points against the Islanders this season than Crosby and Letang.
-Sidney Crosby 189 points (68-121-189) in 168 games which are the eighth-most playoff points in NHL history.
-63 of Crosby’s 168 career playoff games have been multi-point efforts (37.5%). Only Wayne Gretzky (108) and Mark Messier (77) have had more multi-point games in NHL history.
-From 2012- 2014, Jeff Carter led the NHL in playoff goals (24) and was second in points (51) behind LA Kings teammate Anze Kopitar (55).
How to Watch
TV: NBC; Radio: 105.9 The X
Also, the NBC Sports App