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Pens/NYI Recap: Clinchburgh! Pens earn 16th straight postseason, down Isles 6-3

The Penguins punch their ticket to the playoffs with a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders

New York Islanders v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Thursday offered one final Penguins/Islanders game, and Pittsburgh jumped out front and never looked back. With the win, the Pens have clinched a 16th consecutive playoff berth.

The Penguins exploited a fast start and a solid first 10 minutes of the hockey game to jump up to a 2-0 score. The first goal was scored by Kris Letang at the 4:59 mark, where he just fired a shot short-side that Ilya Sorokin seemed to have trouble traffic through the traffic, including a Jake Guentzel screen.

The Islanders would get the first power play of the game when Danton Heinen slashed a NYI stick into two pieces. But after Pittsburgh killed the power play, two slick passes from Teddy Blueger and Brian Boyle sent Heinen on an instant breakaway once he was freed from the box. Unlike a shootout, where the Pens found no success on Sorokin, Heinen was able to use his speed and find the five-hole.

From there, the Penguins seemed to go into an early shell and the proud Islanders were naturally going to regroup and respond. They found the response 5:51 into the second period when Zach Parise scored his third goal this week against Pittsburgh, this time off a nice feed from Mat Barzal to bring NYI back within one goal at 2-1.

Pittsburgh would be able to answer back in the second. Ross Johnston was unable to receive a pass (whoops) which ended up springing Sidney Crosby on an odd-man rush with Jake Guentzel. You know what happens next, a perfect cross-ice pass that Zdeno Chara can’t defend and Guentzel pulls up and snaps in his 36th goal of the season to re-establish the Pens’ two-goal lead at 3-1.

In the third, the Pens caught NYI on a line change with a nice turnover forced by Mike Matheson. That put Guentzel and Crosby in on a 2-on-0. You know what happens next. Three quick passes and Crosby somehow beats Sorokin to the post with his shot. 4-1 Pens.

The Islanders keep pushing and Anders Lee scores from in front with 2:37 left to bring the score to 4-2.

NYI pulls the goalie in the next sequence, with an open net for Brock McGinn to finish and extend the score to 5-3.

With 68 seconds left, Zdeno Chara gets a possible retirement gift with his first goal of the season (and possibly last of his storied career)? 5-3 game.

The Isles pull the goalie yet again, why not, and Guentzel gets another goal to finally set the score as a 6-3 win.

Some thoughts

  • The Islanders threw a lot at the net, but it didn’t seem like THAT much of a challenge for Tristan Jarry, who also looked very fresh and steady in net. Through two periods, shots were 29-18 in favor of NY, but 5v5 scoring chances were 18-13 for Pittsburgh. That was fairly indicative of how this game was played.
  • Jarry’s stickhandling, puck movement and willingness to get out of the crease and get involved is a huge benefit when he’s on that aspect of his game. He was on tonight, almost serving as a third defenseman on the ice to help breakup the NYI dump ins and put the Pens in position to get back out. As a direct result, the Pens’ ability to breakout of their zone and avoid being trapped often (as they were Tuesday night) was way, way better.
  • Suddenly Guentzel is up to 37 goals on the year. There are only six games left in the season, but he might have a chance at 40 again after this strong past two games of scoring four times. It didn’t look like he had much of a chance about 48 hours ago, but now with games against Detroit and Philly still to come....stay tuned!
  • Jason Zucker had a scary moment late in the first period when a Zdeno Chara point shot nailed him in the hand. He was in a lot of pain and left for the locker-room early but was able to come back for the second period. That was great because the Pens totally cannot stand to lose a forward to injury during Evgeni Malkin’s suspension or they will have to play 11F+7D.
  • The storyline of the sixth defender keeps going on, like a bad soap opera plot. Mark Freidman took a double-minor for high-sticking and didn’t cloak himself in glory defending Barzal on the Parise goal (watch that highlight again and focus on him, if you dare). Can’t imagine the Pens feel too comfortable with the level of play they’re getting from that spot right now whether it’s Friedman or Marcus Pettersson.
  • Strong night for the PK, going 5/5 on the game. The Islanders don’t possess a very dangerous power play (19.7% at 21st in the NHL entering the night) but that still was a large chunk of the game that went Pittsburgh’s way.
  • How about this week for Sidney Crosby? Back on Sunday the Pens were mired in a four-game losing streak. Crosby has 3G+5A in the three games since, Pittsburgh gets a 2-0-1 record and is a lot more stabilized. Crosby doesn’t quite have the gaudy counting stats to be in the MVP race, but as far as the word “value” goes, one would be hard-pressed to not tip the cap at how the captain has willed this team back towards the right path.
  • Positive night on the out of town scoreboard too that saw Toronto blow out Washington. The Pens move now to five points up on the Capitals (Washington has two games in hand), with the track starting to run out.

Overall, pretty satisfying win for the Pens at home, who now have just one more game to go on Saturday afternoon before a well needed four day break next week.