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Series Now Even, Islanders Aim To Keep Crosby, Pens In Check

Penguins Islanders Hockey
Frank Franklin II
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders won 4-1.

The top line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust served as the lone constant for the Pittsburgh Penguins during an injury-plagued regular season, one that ended with a sprint to the East Division championship.

The magic the three players created, however, has vanished for long stretches during Pittsburgh's first-round series against the New York Islanders. Crosby has one goal in four games. So does Rust. Guentzel has just a single assist.

If the Penguins want to regain the edge in the series, one of the most productive lines in hockey needs to start looking like it. And Crosby knows it, suggesting it starts by playing Game 5 on Monday night (7 p.m., NBCSN) with the urgency the Islanders showed during a 4-1 victory on Long Island in Game 4.

“With the position that they were in, you knew they were going to fight,” Crosby said. "And I just think that we have to have that same mentality. We can’t wait and see and have that type of approach. We’ve got to go in there and dictate the pace.”

Something New York did from the outset of Game 4 in a performance that brought echoes of their dominant opening-round sweep of Pittsburgh in 2019. The Islanders shut all three players down in the one-sided rout, though Islanders coach Barry Trotz isn't ready to say his team has unlocked the secret to keeping Crosby in particular in check.

“He's dangerous,” Trotz said Sunday. “He's an elite player who plays an elite game night in and night out. We just hope to contain top players like him.”

That hasn't been much of an issue for Trotz each of the past three times he's faced Crosby in the postseason, all three wins by Trotz-led teams.

While Penguins coach Mike Sullivan pointed out ebbs and flows during a series are common, the way New York suffocated Pittsburgh in Game 4 provided a reminder of how difficult the Islanders can make it for opponents when they are playing with an edge.

The teams split a pair of games in Pittsburgh, with New York rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin getting the victory in the opener. He spent two games on the bench watching veteran Semyon Varlamov struggle only to return with three stellar periods on Saturday.

Expect Sorokin to remain in net going forward. After giving up two goals in the first 24 minutes of Game 1, he's allowed just two over the past 115 minutes in net.

“There's nothing separating the teams,” Trotz said. “It's nose to nose.”