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PITTSBURGH (AP) – The New York Islanders are on the cusp of just their second playoff series win in more than a quarter-century.
Jordan Eberle scored for the third straight game, Robin Lehner stopped 25 shots and the Islanders rolled to a 4-1 victory over the stunned Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Brock Nelson added his second goal of the playoffs and Leo Komarov scored the first postseason goal of his career for the Islanders, who have pushed the star-laden Penguins to the brink of elimination.
Garrett Wilson scored Pittsburgh’s lone goal, a first-period deflection past Lehner that gave the Penguins just their second lead of the series.
It didn’t last. Eberle tied it 28 seconds later and Nelson’s wrist shot put New York in front to stay just 1:02 after Eberle’s third playoff goal in as many games.
Komarov’s third-period goal gave the Islanders more than enough breathing room, and Anders Lee put the Penguins away with an empty-net goal with 1:28 remaining.
Matt Murray finished with 32 saves for the Penguins, but Pittsburgh again struggled to generate any sort of offensive momentum against the Islanders. New York, which allowed an NHL-low 196 goals during the regular season, has surrendered just five in three games.
Pittsburgh needs a win in Game 4 on Tuesday to avoid being swept for the first time since the 2013 Eastern Conference finals against Boston.
If the Islanders felt any pressure while taking their first 2-0 postseason lead since the 1983 Stanley Cup final – when they completed their run of four straight championships by sweeping Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers – it didn’t show. Just as it did back home on Long Island, New York didn’t back down against the star-studded Penguins.
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan downplayed the idea his team was “desperate” while facing a 2-0 deficit for the first time in his highly successful tenure. He still opted to tinker with his lines in search of a spark, elevating Dominik Simon to the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel and putting Jared McCann – who sat out Game 2 with a lower-body injury – on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
Oddly, it was the fourth line that gave the Penguins an early lift when Garrett Wilson redirected a shot from the point by Marcus Pettersson past Lehner 12:54 into the first.
Yet the Islanders responded immediately. Eberle collected a pass from Ryan Pulock just above the goal line and flipped a shot short side over Murray’s right shoulder to tie it at 13:22. All of 62 seconds later, the Islanders were in front again when Nelson finished off a 2-on-1 by zipping the puck over Murray’s right arm.
Lehner made sure it was enough. Always seemingly in the right position, the 27-year-old never looked rattled. At one point he head-butted a loose puck out of danger, and New York’s aggressive forecheck and responsible play in its own end made sure he didn’t have to work too hard.
When Komarov’s score 10:27 into the third extended the lead to two, the Islanders were firmly in control and Pittsburgh’s postseason appearance inched closer to being the shortest of its 13-year run.
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