PITTSBURGH — The Islanders have a chance to sweep their first-round series against the Penguins in Tuesday night’s Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena. But they also know the Penguins have a chance to revive themselves.
“You don’t want to give the other team here a sniff,” Robin Lehner told Newsday after Monday’s practice at the arena. “You don’t want to give them life. Because, man, they are good. They’re a heck of a hockey team.
“You don’t want to give them confidence. You don’t want to start giving them some wind. It can be incredibly dangerous. We’re all fully aware of the situation. We know how important the next game is.”
Lehner has some firsthand knowledge of this. In 2011, he was with the Binghamton Senators, who fell behind Manchester three games to one in their AHL first-round series. Lehner’s team rallied with three straight overtime wins and went on to win the Calder Cup.
“We are in a pretty good situation, that’s just the fact of it,” Lehner said. “But you look around the league, you look around the history of the playoffs. You’re not out until you’re out. The dangerous thing here is we have to bring our best game of the season. We know their season is on the line. They’re going to come out hard.”
The Islanders positioned themselves for the franchise’s first sweep since the 1983 Stanley Cup Final against the Oilers with a 4-1 win over the Penguins on Sunday afternoon. Lehner made 25 saves and Penguins star Sidney Crosby was held without a point for the third straight game.
NHL teams that have won the first three games of a best-of-seven playoff series have advanced 186 out of 190 times.
By all actions and words, though, the Islanders have not allowed themselves to think about the sweep.
“For us, it’s just another hockey game we’re going to try and go out and win,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “This group in here has been one game at a time all year, and that’s what it’s got to be in the playoffs. We’re just looking to win our next hockey game.”
“Even after the last game, there was no jumping,” center Mathew Barzal added. “We enjoyed it for five, 10 minutes, then we watched the Masters and go on about our days. This team is all about business right now. We came to Pittsburgh to get two wins and we got one. We know we’re going to get their best game.”
The Islanders have improved their performance from game to game in this series, but Lehner thought the Penguins had more time in the offensive zone in Game 3. He also sensed a shift in their strategy.
“The first two games, they threw a lot of things at my feet, a lot of things from bad angles to create rebounds,” he said. “They just gave that up totally the last game. But they had some really, really good looks that they didn’t connect on. I think they strived more to get into the really good scoring areas the last game.
“From my standpoint, even when they had some sustained pressure and started attacking the net, I backed in pretty deep and I was able to stay calm through that, too. They are a creative and really skilled, good team. But we’ve just got to continue doing what we’re doing. Defend really hard and stay opportunistic and score on our chances.”
Game 5, if necessary, will be played Thursday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. If the Islanders advance, they will play all subsequent home playoff games at Barclays Center.