There are two opportunities for a sweep tonight in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning and Penguins are taking similar routes, as they need a win tonight to avoid getting swept in the first-round. A Lightning sweep will be the most surprising considering they are the top-seed in the NHL, but the Penguins getting dealt a sweep would be a small shock.
The Lightning losing their series would be a shocker enough, let alone getting swept away and exiting with the playoffs without a win. Pittsburgh just simply losing would be no surprise. They’re the lower seed and the Islanders have consistently been the better team this season. The Penguins have made their runs and gotten hot, which they are going to need now, but the Isles have gone about their business pretty steadily.
The steady hand of Robin Lehner between the pipes has played a role in that. He or Ben Bishop should win the Vezina, though the safe pick of Vasilevskiy likely wins out. Hurting Lehner in that respect will be the fact that he shared a lot of time with Thomas Greiss, who was sharp in net as well. Lehner is finally on a team who like to play defence.
A Barry Trotz team is not going to get away without playing well on the blue line. If you don’t, he is going to find somebody who wants to play fundamental hockey. The difference between Doug Weight and Trotz behind the bench is a total 180. Weight had no control and discipline to get his team playing like this.
Bruce Boudreau was fired by the Capitals after his Washington teams neglected defensive fortitude. Trotz goes there and they win a Stanley Cup, as the Capitals developed into a more well-rounded team.
Déjà vu all over again, but with the Islanders this time? The most impressive job he’s done is drawing up a game plan to completely take away Sidney Crosby out of the equation. He’s been irrelevant for three games and will have to get hot for four games. Without him playing well, the Penguins do not have a foundation. Head below for our free Islanders vs. Penguins Game 4 pick.
N.Y. Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Game 4 Pick
I don’t think there’s any other solution for the Penguins here. Crosby gets involved in this series or it’s going to be over. Getting Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin just before the playoffs appeared to be what the Penguins needed to make a deep run in the playoffs. They obviously haven’t been impactful against the Islanders, but everything goes back to Crosby. Phil Kessel flying down the side for a snipe has been neutralized by the Islanders’ defence as well.
As he gets older, that is becoming a little less effective anyway. He’s becoming more dependent on others setting him up, which has been difficult against the top defence in the league. The Isles finished 1st in the regular season with 2.33 goals against per game. They’re tied for 2nd in the playoffs, as the Pens have averaged just 1.67 goals per game in the first three games of the series. Unless Pittsburgh figures that defence out, it’s only going to be going to four games.
The offence hasn’t put up spectacular numbers for the Isles this season, but a well-rounded attack that focuses on defence can be more effective. Trotz understands that and he has his players buying into the system. No offence to Doug Weight, but he was unable to get through to them like this. I don’t see the defensive effort for the Isles slowing down in Game 4.
The Penguins might tighten up in their own end, but it’s still going to be difficult to find goals against Lehner. This one goes down to the wire with the Pens playing desperately to avoid a sweep. It may still not be enough, though. I like a 3-2 final for a selection on the UNDER in Game 4 from Nationwide Arena in Columbus.