If the Stanley Cup Playoffs have taught us anything, its to never underestimate an underdog. The eighth-seeded New York Islanders have clung to this message, making it the team’s mantra as they battle the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the postseason. The series is tied at 2-2, albeit not the elimination situation the Penguins were hoping for, but does not warrant the sounding of any alarms in Pittsburgh. Adversity, intensity, and hard work are requisites for any victory in the postseason. The Penguins are no strangers to adversity—as evidenced by the ebbs and flows of the regular season. At this crucial juncture, the club must refocus and remember the ultimate prize that lies ahead—hockey’s Holy Grail.
This edition of Penguins Playoff Playbook looks at the three necessary keys to a Penguins’ victory in Game 5.
Optimism: The sentiment in the Penguins’ locker room is a cheerful one—with good reason. Penguins forward Jarome Iginla is prepared for the challenge ahead and ready to relish in an intense postseason battle.
“I think this could be great for us,” he told the media Wednesday afternoon. “I think that guys are still very confident and it’s hard, it’s a battle out there and the Islanders are playing great. I mean, they’re playing aggressive and we plan on matching that and finding a way to win this series. I think this could be great for us.”
Despite the turnovers, poor forechecking, and breakdowns in defense in Games 2 through 4, the Penguins had an impressive start in Game 1. With offensive prowess, speed, confidence, and superb puck control, the Penguins were able to effectively shut down the efforts of the Islanders and dictate the pace of the game on every shift. Playing an organized and disciplined game, the club allowed their skill and experience to best the young Islanders squad. The Penguins need to adopt the focus and confidence they had in Game 1 and the desired result will follow. Hockey is a unique combination of skill and faith—two key ingredients that the club has in their repertoire.
Confidence in Net: Veteran netminder Tomas Vokoun will be the starting goaltender in Game 5 after a lackluster effort from goaltending partner Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, who fell to a .891 save percentage and 3.40 goals-against average, started the first four games of the series. In four games against the Islanders, Vokoun has impressive numbers, posting a .970 save percentage, a 0.90 goals-against average, and one shutout. In the regular season with the Penguins, Vokoun registered a .919 save percentage, a 2.45 goals-against average, and three shutouts.
The thirty-six year old netminder has some postseason experience under his belt. With the Nashville Predators, Vokoun has played in 11 career playoff games, recording a .922 save percentage and one shutout.
The change between the pipes will breathe new life into the Penguins while adding to the club’s confidence.
Contain Okposo: Kyle Okposo has quickly become the Islanders’ unlikely playoff hero. Okposo has notched four points (3G, 1A) in four postseason games played in this series. Averaging 19:48 minutes of ice time, the Islanders will look to Okposo to lead the charge against the mighty Penguins. To the delight of the Islanders, Okposo has found the scoring touch in the postseason—scoring 3 goals in 4 games, one less than he scored in the entire 2012-2013 regular season. Okposo, together with forward John Tavares, will serve as a one-two punch for the Islanders moving forward. The Penguins need to contain Okposo and push him to the periphery of the ice, making it difficult to capitalize on loose pucks, connect with teammates, and get a good look on Vokoun.