The Pittsburgh Penguins will play the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh (37-16-3) won the MassMutual East Division and will have home-ice advantage against fourth-place New York (31-17-7) in the best-of-7 series.
Game 1 has not been scheduled. The playoffs start Saturday.
“We liked how our game has grown over the course of the year,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “For the most part, when you look at the last six weeks of the season, we’ve gotten better at our team game. Some of our newer guys are more familiar with how we’re trying to play. I think they’re getting more familiar with their role and contribution to helping the team win. We like the group assembled here. They’re a tight group. They play hard for one another and we think we have sufficient depth here. We’re excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us. We know how difficult it is to win. We’re going to have to go out and earn it each and every single game. We’re excited and we look forward to what’s next.”
The Penguins were 6-2-0 against the Islanders this season, outscoring them 25-19. They haven’t played each other since March 29.
Center Sidney Crosby (three goals, six assists) and defenseman Kris Letang (four goals, five assists) led the Penguins with nine points against the Islanders. Forward Bryan Rust scored eight points, including a Pittsburgh-best five goals, and forward Jake Guentzel scored seven points (one goal, six assists). Tristan Jarry was 5-1-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. Casey DeSmith was 1-1-0 with a 2.21 GAA and .924 save percentage.
The Islanders, who were 2-4-2 against the Penguins, were led by forwards Mathew Barzal (three goals, three assists), Brock Nelson (three goals, three assists) and Josh Bailey (one goal, five assists), and defenseman Nick Leddy (six assists) with six points each. Forward Jordan Eberle led New York with four goals. Semyon Varlamov was 1-3-2 with a 2.86 GAA and an .897 save percentage in seven games (six starts), and rookie Ilya Sorokin was 1-1-0 with a 2.78 GAA, an .862 save percentage and one shutout in two games.
Crosby leads the Penguins with 24 goals and 62 points. Guentzel has scored 57 points (23 goals, 34 assists), and Letang has scored 45 points (seven goals, 38 assists).
Jarry is 25-9-3 with a 2.75 GAA, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts in 39 games (38 starts). DeSmith is 11-7-0 with a 2.54 GAA, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts in 20 games (17 starts). Maxime Lagace made 29 saves in a 1-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres in Pittsburgh’s regular-season finale May 8 in his only game.
“It’s hard to win in this league unless it’s a team effort, unless it’s a collective effort,” Sullivan said. “You’re not going to win with one or two or three players that are scoring their way. The League is too hard. When you look at Stanley Cup championship teams, they’re teams in the truest sense of the word. We preach that a lot with our group. Part of that is the chemistry that developed off the ice and that’s translated on the ice. We think we have become a team. Now our challenge is in front of us. We’re excited about it. Right now, it’s just an opportunity. We have to earn it. But we’re excited about it. I’m really happy for the guys because they’ve worked extremely hard to put themselves in this position. We know the expectations are high here and it’s high inside our dressing room. I think this group has come together as a team and we’re going to have to continue to do that moving forward if we want to have success. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Entering Monday, Barzal led the Islanders with 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists). Bailey had scored 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists), and Eberle (16 goals, 17 assists) and Nelson (18 goals, 15 assists) each had scored 33 points. Varlamov was 19-11-4 with a 2.02 GAA, a .930 save percentage and an NHL-leading seven shutouts in 35 games (34 starts). Sorokin was 13-6-2 with a 2.16 GAA, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in 21 games.
This will be the sixth playoff series between Pittsburgh and New York. The Islanders won four of the previous five, including in four games in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round.
Pittsburgh, which qualified for the playoffs for a 15th straight season, lost to the Montreal Canadiens in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season.
New York, which qualified for a third straight season, lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the Eastern Conference Final last season.
The series winner will play the winner of the series between the Washington Capitals (No. 2) and Boston Bruins (No. 3) in the second round.