Pittsburgh vs New York: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh vs. New York, Division Semifinals, May 16, PPG Paints Arena

A switch in goaltender and attitude helped the New York Islanders even their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins as the series returns to Pittsburgh. Ilya Sorokin made 29 saves and the Islanders went back to grinding against the Penguins after being overwhelmed in Game 3. Now it’s a simple best-of-3 series between these two rivals and the action is bound to be intense Monday in a crucial Game 5.

Game 5 (Series tied 2-2)

May 24, 7 p.m., PPG Paints Arena

Defense and goaltending are what win games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the New York Islanders had both against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4. The Islanders went back to Game 1 starter Ilya Sorokin in goal Saturday, and the young Russian responded with 29 saves while the team in front of him took the time and space away from the Penguins. Pittsburgh did a good job at limiting New York’s chances, but the Islanders scored on two of their three shots on the power play and four of their 26 shots overall to even the series. The two teams battle again Monday in a critical Game 5 in Pittsburgh in what should surely be a tough, hard-checking battle between two teams hungry to advance.

It’s official, the Penguins have a goaltending problem as Tristan Jarry was again subpar between the pipes for Pittsburgh. In these NHL playoffs, Jarry has a .904 save percentage and 3.04 goals against average, which was boosted by a strong performance in Game 2. He’s allowed four goals in the other three games of the series against a team that had scored four goals in a game just three times in their last 19 contests of the regular season. Defensively, Pittsburgh should take comfort in keeping the Islanders to less than 30 shots in a game, but Jarry needs to make more stops, especially in games where the Islanders’ defense is particularly tight. I am not worried about the Penguins offense because I expect it will come around, but it won’t matter if Jarry doesn’t improve and lets the Islanders score on 14 percent of their shots.

New York certainly found its game at the right time Saturday, limiting the Penguins to just 30 shots and winning two-thirds of all faceoffs. Those are the little things that the Islanders do well when they are at their best and they were fairly close to their best in Game 4. Some of that has to do with Sorokin, who stepped right back into the net and stopped 29 of 30 shots, but a lot of that is the play in front of him and how little room New York gave to Pittsburgh in the danger areas. What definitely stood out was the two shots the Islanders allowed to Sidney Crosby while shutting out Malkin in the shots department. It will be more difficult to accomplish that task Monday in Game 5, but the Islanders were not one of the best defensive teams in the NHL this season for no reason. New York’s defensive depth is extraordinary and will need to continue to shine for New York to jump back ahead in the series.

Pittsburgh is again favored in Game 5 at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey, and with good reason because the Penguins haven’t lost consecutive games since early April. However, Jarry’s performances in this series leave me worried that Pittsburgh can do enough to beat the Islanders. It’s difficult to score four goals on the Islanders, let alone the five Pittsburgh needed to win Game 3 on Long Island. Pittsburgh isn’t going to move off Jarry right now, but I don’t trust him to make the requisite needed to beat a team like the Islanders. I don’t think New York is going to overwhelm the Penguins with shots or scoring chances, but if they can continue to score four times on 26-28 shots then Pittsburgh can’t win. I’m going to bet the Islanders win in regulation at +185 odds and that New York scores over 3.5 goals at +240 odds. I’ll even parlay those two at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey by betting on the Islanders to win with over 5.5 total goals for +325 odds.

BET ON NEW YORK ISLANDERS TO WIN

 

Game 6

May 26, TBD, Nassau Coliseum

 

Game 7

May 28, TBD, PPG Paints Arena

 

Game 1

May 16, Noon, PPG Paints Arena

Just two seasons ago, the New York Islanders dispatched of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the NHL playoffs in a convincing sweep. It was the first of consecutive postseason disappointments for the Penguins, who are not far removed from their back-to-back championships in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Pittsburgh finished atop the toughest division in hockey, dominating the final quarter of the season with 13 wins in their final 17 games. New York advanced all the way to the conference finals last season in the bubble, but the Islanders have not looked the same team recently with a 6-7-3 record over the same span as the Penguins 13 wins.

The good news for the Islanders is they are built to have success in the playoffs. They are comfortable in tight-checking, low-scoring games and for the most part that is all they have played this season. New York finished second in the league in fewest goals allowed, but they scored just 152 goals, the second-fewest total among the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs. New York has also been playing without its captain, Anders Lee, for much of the past two months, which takes one of its best scorers out of the lineup as well. The playoffs, though, are about goaltending and that is the Islanders’ strong suit with the tandem on Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. Varlamov had a .929 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average in 35 starts this season while Sorokin posted a .918 save percentage and 2.17 goals against average in 21 starts. Those two will need to be on top of their game to deal with the Penguins’ offense that scored the second-most goals in the league this season.

If not for the talented duo in Edmonton, there is a legitimate argument that Sidney Crosby played at an MVP level this season for the Penguins. His 24 goals and 38 assists were the spark plug for Pittsburgh as they dealt with injuries to some of its key players throughout the season. Jake Guentzel also emerged as a consistent scoring threat with 23 goals and 34 assists while Bryan Rust added 22 goals and 20 assists. There is no denying Pittsburgh’s offensive capabilities, but the key for the Penguins in this series is being able to slow down the Islanders during the few moments New York dominates possession. The Islanders do not generate a lot of shots, but they have an ability to make those chances count, so it will be up to Tristan Jarry to steady the ship. He recorded a .909 save percentage this season, but he’ll need to be a few points better if the Penguins are to make quick work of the Islanders.

The issue for the Islanders in this series is that this is just a poor matchup for New York. Without much of an offensive threat, I can’t imagine the Islanders being able to score enough to compete with Pittsburgh over a full seven-game series. These are two of the best home teams in the league this season with Pittsburgh posting a league-best 22-4-2 record on home ice while New York ranked fourth at 21-4-3 on Long Island. Of course, the Penguins handed the Islanders two of those three overtime losses at Nassau Coliseum, so they have the confidence to win on the road against New York. I think Varlamov and New York’s defense can win the Islanders a game – maybe two – but Pittsburgh is playing too well to bet against them. Therefore, I’m going to take the riskiest side of the bet and pick Pittsburgh to win in five games at +480 odds. However, I am going to cover my tracks by betting on the Islanders to win under 2.5 games for +135 odds at the legal sports betting sites in New Jersey.

When it comes to the opening game of this series on Sunday, I have no hesitation in picking the Penguins. I’ll open the NHL playoffs betting by doubling down on my previous prediction and betting Pittsburgh to win both Game 1 and the series for +140 odds. The Penguins are going to win a low-scoring game, too, because the Islanders are going to use their traps and neutral zone pressure to stymie Pittsburgh and prevent the Penguins from using their speed. I was tempted to take a risk and bet on under 3.5 goals for +320 odds, but there will be more time in the Stanley Cup playoffs to take more risks. Instead, I’ll take the more reasonable +188 odds on there being less than 4.5 goals in the opening game Sunday.

BET ON PITTSBURGH PENGUINS TO WIN

Game 2 (New York Islanders lead 1-0)

May 18, 7:30 p.m., PPG Paints Arena

Sunday’s first game was an important tone-setter in this series and ramps up the pressure for Tuesday’s Game 2 in Pittsburgh. New York did what it needed to do in the opener and found a way to win a game on the road after posting a losing record away from Long Island during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Penguins aren’t in panic mode yet, but Game 2 became far more vital with the weight of the previous seasons on their shoulders. It was just two years ago that New York turned a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 into an emphatic sweep, and Pittsburgh followed up last season with a dud in the bubble as the heavily-favorited team. The Penguins can ill-afford to fall down 2-0 in this series or the demons from the past will be another team playing against them in their heads.

The opener was the worst-case scenario for the Penguins on the defensive end. Pittsburgh surrendered 41 shots to the Islanders and allowed four goals in the Game 1 loss, putting the East Division’s top seed in an early hole. The Islanders offense was gasping for air over the final week of the season, but they found a bunch of it against the Penguins. It also wasn’t a great performance from Tristan Jarry, who had a save percentage below .910 for the sixth time in his last seven appearances. Pittsburgh is going to need to get better goaltending from Jarry if it wants to be taken as a serious contender in these Stanley Cup playoffs, but the Penguins also need to make three goals count against this Islanders team. New York’s defense and goaltending is the strength of that team and if the Penguins can’t close out higher-scoring games, it does not bode well.

The Islanders certainly benefitted from having two starting goaltenders as Ilya Sorokin stepped in and played extremely well for New York. He turned aside 92.9 percent of the shots he faced and really held his own while being thrust into his first career playoff start with Semyon Varlamov missing due to a lower-body injury. New York still has a bit to clean up defensively as it let a late lead slip in the third period, but the most important thing to their long-term status in these NHL playoffs was scoring four goals, the most the Islanders scored against a playoff team since April 1 against Washington. If the Islanders can continue to earn consistent offense from their top lines and have an odd role player chip in a goal every other game or so, the Islanders are far more likely to be able to complete this upset.

New York hasn’t won consecutive games since sweeping the Rangers at the beginning of May, which is also the only time since the beginning of April that the Islanders have scored three or more goals in consecutive games. Therefore, I do expect a little bit of a letdown from the Islanders’ offensively, and the question becomes whether or not Pittsburgh can take advantage of that. The top sports betting sites in New Jersey certainly expect a strong bounce back from the Penguins, and I tend to agree as well. Pittsburgh hasn’t lost back-to-back games since the beginning of April, and I think the Penguins understand the significance of this game. These are going to be two teams hyper-focused on defense, which is why I’m going under the prediction from the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey by betting on under 3.5 total goals for +330 odds. When it comes to the game itself, I will double down on the top NHL betting sites in New Jersey by wagering on Pittsburgh to win in regulation at +125 odds, evening this exciting series as it changes locations.

BET ON PITTSBURGH PENGUINS TO WIN

Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

May 20, 7 p.m., Nassau Coliseum

We figured Game 2 was going to be a defensive battle, but it was a far different type of defensive effort than expected. Once again, the two teams raced up and down the ice creating scoring chances with 83 combined shots on goal. The difference was the play of the goaltenders, who stopped 80 of those shots as Pittsburgh edged out a 2-1 win at home to even the series at a win each. Semyon Varlamov looked sharp in his first appearance of the Stanley Cup playoffs while Tristan Jarry bounced back from a shaky performance in Game 1 to stop more than 97 percent of the shots he faced. I don’t know if this amount of offensive opportunities is sustainable with these two teams, but it’s been fun to watch at the very least.

The Islanders are going to need their goalies to play well if they want to upset the Penguins in these NHL playoffs, and Varlamov certainly lived up to the expectations Tuesday. He stopped 43 of the 45 shots he faced, which is a much higher workload than should be expected for an Islanders goalie. New York allowed 40 shots or more in regulation just twice in 56 regular-season games, but the number of shots the Islanders allow has a direct impact on the result. The Islanders were just 3-7 this season when allowing at least 35 shots in a game – a trend they obviously bucked in Game 1 though there was nearly a full extra period of shots. The good news for New York in this series is it is able to create offense itself with 41 shots in Game 1 then 38 in Game 2. The Islanders had just four games with at least 38 shots during the NHL’s regular season, and we’ve seen that Jarry can struggle when he faces a lot of shots.

It was a much-needed win for the Penguins, and they should have confidence in their ability to generate offense against the tight-checking Islanders. The 45 shots Pittsburgh put on goal in Game 2 are tied for the most allowed by the Islanders this season, and Pittsburgh had 16 other shots blocked before reaching the net. The best chance to score on New York is finding ways to create shots and increase the chances for second and third chances around the net. That likely means Pittsburgh will need more than nine shots from its defensemen, but if the Penguins’ top forwards keep shooting and creating havoc around the Islanders net, that is a fairly good substitute. The change Pittsburgh must make is tightening up its defensive plan and not allow the shot totals to be so even, especially considering it isn’t typical for the Islanders to be throwing this many shots on goal in a game.

I expect the offense to take a giant step backwards once the series switches to Long Island on Thursday and the Islanders control last change. I think we’ll see Barry Trotz try to match up lines to better New York’s defense and make sure the Islanders don’t give Pittsburgh’s shooters the time and space to create chaos. As a result, I’m again shying away from the top sports betting sites in New Jersey by wager on another low-scoring game. I’ll stick with the same total I had for Game 2 and bet the increased odds of +320 on the under 3.5 total goals in Game 3. With the Islanders likely playing a tighter game and focusing more on the defense, I think that will help settle New York into a comfort zone of playing on the counterattack. The top hockey betting sites in New Jersey have these two teams about as equal as possible with the odds, so there is value on picking the host Islanders to win in regulation at +145 odds.

BET ON NEW YORK ISLANDERS TO WIN

Game 4 (Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1)

May 22, 3 p.m., Nassau Coliseum

We figured Game 1 would provide more goals than any other game in this series, but then Game 3 topped it in dramatic fashion. The two teams combined for five goals in the third period as the New York Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game only for the Pittsburgh Penguins to score almost a minute later. Another Islanders tying goal with almost five minutes left was answered by Brandon Tanev’s winner just two minutes later. It was a tough game to be a goalie as Tristan Jarry and Semyon Varlamov combined for a lousy .842 save percentage, but that bodes well for Pittsburgh moreso than New York in this NHL playoffs series.

The Islanders simply were not good enough defensively, especially in the third period, and much of that blame can fall on Varlamov. Pittsburgh scored five goals on just 27 shots, leaving the Russian with an .815 save percentage for the game. New York’s offense did its part by scoring four times on 30 shots, which would be good enough to win most games the Islanders played this season. It doesn’t seem like Varlamov is at 100 percent at the moment, opening the door for Ilya Sorokin to take over in net for Game 4. Sorokin was solid in a Game 1 overtime victory and he’ll need to be on his game again against a Penguins offense that gained a lot of confidence by torching the Islanders on Thursday in Game 3. The Islanders were one of the best defensive teams in the NHL during the regular season and they need to return to that form Saturday to have a chance against Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh should definitely worry about Jarry after a shaky start, but let’s focus for a second on the scoring depth on display in Game 3. Not only did Jeff Carter continue his resurgence with two goals, but the Penguins also received contributions from Jason Zucker and Tanev on a night when the top line was neutralized. That is an important development for the Penguins moving forward in this series as Sidney Crosby will garner a lot of attention from the Islanders defense. However, the Penguins need to be much better defensively as four goals allowed on 30 shots against is not going to win many games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Jarry has looked shaky in this series thus far and the Islanders brought plenty of physicality with a 47-29 advantage in hits in Game 3. Those are two areas Pittsburgh needs to address as it tries to take a commanding lead in the series on Saturday.

I am a little bit confused as to how the Islanders are favored Saturday by the top sports betting sites in New Jersey after the performance they had in Game 3. New York was excellent at home this season, but there isn’t much about the way the Islanders defended that made me believe they can shut down the Penguins in Game 4. Pittsburgh is such a strong offensive team that it will take advantage of any crack you give it, and New York has been giving the Penguins plenty of chances this far in the series. I’ll happily take advantage of the long odds on Pittsburgh at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey by betting on Pittsburgh to win in regulation at +155 odds. I’ll even add a little side action on the resurgent Carter to score again in Game 4 at +250 odds.

BET ON PITTSBURGH PENGUINS TO WIN

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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