Why the Islanders are Favorites
One of the biggest surprises this season, the Islanders enter the playoffs with plenty of confidence after going from worst to first in goals against under new head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz is coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Capitals and will hope his system will bring his team to the promised land once again. The Isles don’t score much, the only Eastern playoff team without a 30-goal scorer, but with the defense and goaltending they’ve had, they don’t need to.
Elite defense and hot goaltending have been the recipe of many playoff runs and the Islanders hope that trend continues. Another thing going their way is the Penguins inability to stop speed-based offenses, ranking dead last in odd-man rushes against this season, which should play right into Mathew Barzal’s hands.
Why the Penguins Could Pull Off the (minor) Upset
The Penguins might be underdogs based on standings, but they’ll be a threat to go all the way as long as Crosby plays like his usual self. Considering he hit 100 points for the first time since 2013-14, it’s fair to say he hasn’t slowed down one bit. Their place in the standings is dragged down by a poor stretch of play to start the year that involved some very rocky goaltending by Matt Murray. He spent some time on IR, but since coming back, he’s been one of the league’s best.
Unsurprisingly, the Pens have the 6th-best record in the NHL since his return. Murray has plenty of playoff experience, so if he can maintain his form, he could cover up for Pittsburgh’s defensive woes. Offensively, Pittsburgh is still the usual force, ranking 6th in goals this season. They boast four 70+ points players and a 56 point defenseman. If any team can pierce the Islanders’ newly dominant defense and goaltending, it’s them.