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Pens Take 2-1 Lead; Round 1 Reaches Boiling Point

The Penguins won a wild game against the Islanders to take a 2-1 series lead in their Round 1 matchup. A 5-4 nail biter saw lots of violence and entertaining goals, with Brandon Tanev’s game winner being the highlight of the evening. Tensions are rising every game between these two rivals, and it looks like the intensity will ramp up again in their game 4 meeting.  Pittsburgh looks to take a commanding lead in the series with a win Saturday in the Coliseum. Here’s a few free hints for Coach Sullivan to help get his team to a 3-1 Round 1 series lead. 

Keep Skating

The 3rd period scrum resulting in all 10 players on the ice being sent to the penalty box made one thing crystal clear: this team isn’t built to win this way. They are not the overwhelmingly physical forces like the ‘18 Capitals or the ‘19 Blues. The bruising play and post-whistle scrums are the farthest thing from this team’s identity. The Penguins do thrive however, when they out skate their opponent. When effective, the Penguins smother their opponent in all three zones. There is no doubt that they are the faster, more talented, and harder working team. They’ve been dominant at times throughout the series and have been effective at getting to their game otherwise. The Islanders are smartly trying to drag and beat the Penguins down to combat this. If the Penguins can continue winning the skating and transition battle and avoid retaliatory penalties, their series lead will grow. 

Quit Giving Up Leads

The third period was a circus. I also thoroughly disagreed with the power play awarded to New York that gave them the opportunity to come back. That being said, the Penguins have had trouble protecting leads. They gave up the lead in their game 1 loss, and surrendered two game-trying goals in the third period last game. Should this trend continue, this team will be looking at a swift exit from the postseason. I’d like to see them apply a little more pressure on the forecheck when defending a lead. They’ve been too passive in the neutral zone in the third period. Their usual aggressiveness creates turnovers and scoring chances, stifling the Islanders before they can set up anything in the offensive zone. A high pressure forecheck on the Isles while defending the lead should be a huge priority for the Pens in game 4. 

Your Fourth Line is Really Your Second Line

The fourth line of the Penguins, Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese, and Brandon Tanev, have been the best line in this series. They have matched up against Mat Barzal’s line, they’re the energy line, the defensive line, and every other role that Coach Sullivan puts them in, and they keep succeeding. Through three games, this line has been the de facto 2nd line for the Penguins. Case in point, they often follow Sid’s line for their shift. Is it a strategy to get Geno or Carter’s line a better matchup? Of course! Is it also a sign of trust in this trio that Sullivan puts them out there in almost every important situation that Sid’s line doesn’t play? Absolutely. This line started and finished the scoring in game 3 and their consistent play has been one of the biggest reasons the Penguins have a 2-1 series lead. No matter the situation, this line produces. Keeping them on the ice is a great idea to help the Penguins win their next game.

The remainder of this Round 1 series will undoubtedly be a dog fight. The Penguins are attempting to assert their dominance by out-skating the Islanders, but they won’t back down. The Islanders will attempt to scratch and claw their way back to an even series. If the Penguins want to take a 3-1 series lead back to Pittsburgh, they’ll have to out-skate, out-work, and out-play a desperate and dangerous New York squad. I can’t wait for puck drop.