PITTSBURGH – The last time the Islanders swept a playoff series, such things were old hat for the franchise. It was 1983, and their quick dismissal of the Oilers resulted in a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
This time the reward was not a Cup. Far from it. That remains 12 victories in the distance. But for this generation of Islanders fans and players, a first-round wipeout of the star-studded Penguins was a heck of a start.
So even though the celebration of Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory in Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena was relatively muted – at least when reporters were in the dressing room – the Islanders acknowledged a deeply satisfying milestone.
“This is a special group,” Matt Martin said after being credited with 11 hits on assorted Penguins. “We have as good a chance as anybody. We believe in ourselves, and obviously we stick together.
“Throughout that whole series guys were sacrificing their bodies, doing whatever it took to squeak out wins and get the job done.”
It was only the Islanders’ second playoff series victory since 1993; they also won a first-rounder in 2016.
As for 1983 . . . No one who dressed for them Tuesday was born at the time of that sweep.
The only downside of not having a Game 5: NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum is not slated to host another game that counts until next season. All remaining home games are to be played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
But at this point, the Islanders seem capable of winning anywhere.
So it’s on to the Capitals or Hurricanes, and given how the Islanders’ defense flummoxed opponents all season, and held the high-powered Pens to one goal in three straight games, no one is likely to relish the matchup. The Islanders are a profoundly annoying team to face, which is just how they like it.
It appeared the Penguins – Cup winners in 2016 and ’17 – had some life left in them when they scored 35 seconds into Game 4, when Jake Guentzel finally recorded the first goal of the series for Sidney Crosby’s line.
(Islanders coach Barry Trotz called Crosby “an absolute beast” in Game 4.)
But for the third game in a row, the Islanders quickly answered the Penguins scoring first with a goal of their own, this time Jordan Eberle’s fourth in four games.
Later in the first, Josh Bailey found Brock Nelson – started by some excellent dirty work behind the net by Tom Kuhnhackl – for an easy goal at 18:06, and it was 2-1.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s composure,” Trotz said. “It got a little hairy at times and our bench didn’t go emotionally off the rails. We stayed composed.”
Said Bailey, “I think part of our mindset is not to get rattled, stay with it, trust that we’re able to get back into the game.”
Added Martin, “I think that just speaks to our maturity as a group. As you know, Trotzie is a pretty composed guy. He always talks about staying the course and focusing on the task at hand.”
The Penguins came at the Islanders in waves, and had plenty of chances, with Crosby hitting the post and Phil Kessel missing an open net when defenseman Scott Mayfield blocked the puck with his right knee.
It was the kind of thing that happens to teams on a roll. Anything suddenly seems possible, especially after the Blue Jackets earlier Tuesday swept the Lightning, the league’s best team in the regular season.
That sweep was even more shocking than the Islanders’. Still, the Islanders themselves never would have anticipated dispatching the Pens in four.
“Obviously, no one would have really predicted that,” Bailey said, “but I think things change as the series goes on.”
Who knows where this goes from here?
That ’83 team followed its sweep by parading the Cup. These players have plenty more work to do. But they always will have these past four games, and a piece of history for themselves.