Islanders insist they’re not looking ahead as Penguins fade away

PITTSBURGH — Of course the Islanders aren’t looking ahead. But boy, how can they not a little bit when the second round is only one win away?

With a decisive 4-1 victory over the Penguins in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Sunday afternoon, the Islanders took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven contest and are eyeing Tuesday night’s Game 4 as a potential clincher. Only four teams in the history of the NHL have come back from this deficit, and the Islanders have never blown a lead this big.

The most recent time they held one was the sweep of the Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup final, but that was a long time ago. The franchise has won only one playoff series since 1993, and few people thought this was the club that would add a second.

But here they are, playing this tight defensive game under coach Barry Trotz and going about their business in such a drastically understated way as dictated by team president Lou Lamoriello. One more win over these frustrated and distraught Penguins, and they move on — not that they’re letting that cross their minds.

“We’re not thinking too into anything, we’re taking it one day at a time, one game at a time,” said Josh Bailey, who is playing the best hockey of his career at a good time. “We’ve come out on the winning end thus far, but it ain’t over yet. The last one is going to be the toughest to win. So we have to make sure we’re ready.”

The Islanders have been nothing but ready. The system that Trotz is running has helped to utterly shut down Sidney Crosby (no points, minus-6 in the series) and the rest of the Penguins have had no answer. When Pittsburgh has created chances, goalie Robin Lehner has been there to make the timely saves, collecting 25 of them Sunday in another steady performance.

“I’m just going in with a mindset of trying to play my game, trying to see pucks, trying to be as loose and in control as possible,” Lehner said. “I feel good right now, but it’s a good team effort.”

That is the concept that has made this Islanders season so successful. They lack the high-end talent seen on the Penguins bench, but they play together with such cohesion the result is greater than the sum of their parts.

“It starts at training camp, and trying to understand why we do things, why they’re important, and how much they mean to the guy sitting next to you in the room,” Trotz said. “You become kind of a family over the course of a year.”

Maybe the biggest hurdle of this series was in Game 1, which went to overtime before Bailey won it with a dramatic goal that almost brought the roof down on the crumbling Coliseum. They then played a tight Game 2, and an even tighter Game 3.

They never blinked when Garrett Wilson got the game-opening goal for the Penguins at 12:54 of the first period, trying to urge the 18,610 in attendance to show some emotion after a rather quiet atmosphere for the noon start. The Islanders hardly gave them any time to feel good about their team, tying it just 28 seconds later when Jordan Eberle got his third in as many games with a sharp-angle shot that banked in off out-of-position goalie Matt Murray.

That hurt the Penguins, and then Brock Nelson made it worse when he buried a shot off a two-on-one rush, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead in a matter of 90 seconds.

Then the Isles shut it down, Leo Komarov eventually banging in a loose puck at 10:27 of the third and Anders Lee ending the festivities into the empty net with just 1:28 left in regulation.

Now the sweep beckons, even if the Islanders are looking at it like that.

“We know that it’s not over,” Bailey said, “so there’s nothing to be celebrating at this point.”