It has been a crazy, strange and often defenseless Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins. There have been tons of goals scored, some scraps (but no actual fights) between players on both sides, sometimes players and referees, and overall a lot of fun for hockey fans. The Penguins, however, appeared to stabilize things with Game 5's excellent 4-0 win at home, and they'll look to close out the series at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night in Game 6.
The Islanders, however, have nothing to lose. Nobody expected them to make the post-season in January. Nobody expected them to give the Penguins any trouble whatsoever, much less win two games and put the fear of Philadelphia into the Pens. It's a huge victory for Islander hockey, for coach Jack Capuano and general manager Garth Snow. They've proven that their rebuild attempt is finally working, and this franchise is headed somewhere.
That said, it'd be nice to try and force a Game 7 and just scare the Penguins a bit more. If they did, you'd hear about the ghosts of David Volek and Ray Ferraro and 1993. It'd raise more doubt that the Penguins -- now with Tomas Vokoun in goal -- can't get it done in the first round, and that their defense is truly suspect rather than their goaltending. The Pens likely have enough scoring to win if Vokoun plays as well as he did in Game 5, but I can't imagine the Islanders won't go down swinging.
Will Vokoun continue his dominance of the Islanders?
Vokoun beat New York for the fourth time this year on Thursday night. His shutout improved a goals against average against the Islanders that was already under 1.00. He's 18-7 lifetime against the Isles and 4-0 in the 2013 season. The Islanders haven't come close to finding a way to crack the code on Vokoun, who improved his playoff record to 4-8 with the win on Thursday. In order to win hockey games, teams need to score goals. So finding some way to beat Vokoun is a must.
Can the Isles shut down the Pens' offensive defense?
The Penguins defense hasn't played great in this series in its own end, but they've contributed plenty on the offensive side. Kris Letang has looked average when guarding Kyle Okposo of all people, but has six points in five games. Paul Martin has four points. Douglas Murray -- seriously -- has two goals in this series. The Penguins are getting back-end contributions, and it's been a difference in this series.
Does John Tavares have one more great game on Long Island in him?
Tavares has been held off the score sheet at Consol Energy Center in the three games the teams have played in Pittsburgh. He has been better at Nassau Coliseum, with two goals and two assists in four games. Big goals, too: he got the game-tying goal in Game 3 (though the Penguins won in overtime), and he got the winning goal in Game 4 on a huge individual effort that saw him outlast a couple Pens defenders, get a shot on Fleury, collect his own rebound and put it in the back of the net. The Islanders can't even have a prayer in this one without John Tavares. Can he give them one?
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
National TV: NBC Sports Network, TSN
Pittsburgh TV: ROOT Sports
New York TV: MSG Plus