PITTSBURGH — Mere minutes had gone by since the Islanders pushed the Penguins to the brink of playoff elimination, yet the vibe in their postgame dressing room was akin to a win in mid-December.
And perhaps that ability to remain on an even keel, which has led to back-to-back-to-back consistent efforts and allowed them to take a first-period lead Sunday afternoon only 90 seconds after allowing the game’s first goal, explains the Islanders’ 3-0 lead in their first-round series.
They beat the Penguins, 4-1, at PPG Paints Arena, and on Tuesday night in Game 4 here, they can sweep a best-of-seven series for the first time since beating the Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final.
“We’re playing the way we should be playing,” captain Anders Lee said. “I think the results can speak for themselves. It’s still a long series. We can’t get too ahead of ourselves. We haven’t done anything yet. We put ourselves in a good position.
“It’s a credit to the effort we’ve made all season to prepare ourselves for this moment and get to a point in our game where we know what it felt like to play the right way and how to win games and how to close them out.”
The Islanders again played stifling defense. Robin Lehner made 25 saves, again outplaying the Penguins’ Matt Murray (31 saves), and Sidney Crosby was held without a point for the third straight game (he was a minus-3).
Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel and defenseman Kris Letang — the Penguins’ offensive stars — have been held to two goals and four assists in the series. The Penguins’ power play, ranked fifth in the regular season, went 0-for-3 with four shots on Sunday and is 1-for-8 in the series.
“We just want to continue playing the way we know we can,” said right wing Jordan Eberle, who became the first Islander since Ray Ferraro in 1993 to score a goal in each of the first three games of a playoff series. “It’s been a good start. I think everyone would say the fourth one is the hardest, so we’ve got to be ready again.”
“We know it’s not over,” left wing Josh Bailey said when asked about the low-key, matter-of-fact attitude. “So there’s nothing to be celebrating at this point. We know they’re a really good team and we know the next game is going to be even tougher.”
The Islanders aren’t surprised about taking a 3-0 series lead over the Penguins, who won the Cup in 2016 and 2017 and were considered the betting favorites despite finishing behind the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
“No,” Lehner said. “We got 103 points in the standings. It can’t be a surprise. This team was no fluke this year. Everyone looks and compares players. I look at our roster and see a lot of really good players and I see a really good organization and great coaching and great defensemen and a lot of heart. So it shouldn’t be a surprise.”
As they did in the Islanders’ 3-1 win in Game 2 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, the Penguins scored the first goal Sunday. Garrett Wilson tipped defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s blue-line shot at 12:54 of the first period.
But Eberle beat Murray to the short side with a sharp-angle shot from the left to make it 1-1 at 13:22. Then Brock Nelson kept the puck on a two-on-one rush with Bailey and beat Murray at 14:24 for a 2-1 lead.
“That’s huge,” Eberle said. “You’re able to quiet the crowd down and get another one right after and take away the momentum. The playoffs is all about momentum. When you’re able to take a team’s away, it’s key.”
The Islanders could not add to their lead in the second period despite a 53-second, five-on-three power play after Jack Johnson was called for holding Lee’s stick at 12:20. It was their second unsuccessful two-man advantage in two games.
But Leo Komarov, from below the right circle, gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead at 10:27 of the third period and Lee added an empty-netter at 18:32.