The New York Islanders came surging into their first playoff berth in six years by losing just one regulation game of their last 10, and hoped to catch a Penguins team that was playing without key players Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik by surprise in the opener of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
It didn't happen, though, as everything that could go wrong for an Islanders club playing its first playoff game since 2007, did.
Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov wasn't sharp, allowing four goals on 15 shots before getting yanked in the second period. New York's Hart Trophy candidate John Tavares had no shots on goal for the first time this season. And the Isles' hope to catch the Penguins looking a bit past them went by the boards in a 5-0 loss.
So, where does the loss render the Islanders' hopes of recording an upset in a rematch of the 1993 series that saw David Volek stun the Penguins in overtime of Game 7 in one of the NHL's biggest upsets in recent memory?
Clearly, the first thing New York will need in Game 2 is Nabokov to be sharper. The Penguins are loaded up front and have a much deeper forward corps, so if the Russian isn't the best goaltender on the ice, it's going to be a short return to the postseason for the Islanders.
Nabokov was fighting the puck early and didn't look particularly sharp at times, including one where he was flat on the ice as Pascal Dupuis just poked the puck past the prone netminder. The goaltender was hit with a shot in the mask early on, and it certainly could have been a factor as hewasn't solid, sitting back deep in his cage and allowing some goals the netminder would like to have back.
No question, Nabokov has been a big part of the Islanders' resurgence this season, and for the season to continue, the Isles will need him to be at his best to register the upset. It was the goaltender's first game since being a member of the San Jose Sharks in 2010, and it wasn't a memorable one, as he now has lost six of his last seven playoff starts.
Offensively, Tavares -- facing a defense without Orpik -- was a non-factor, not delivering a shot on goal and remaining quiet. With the Penguins able to roll lines against a much thinner New York club, the Islanders need their star to drive their offense, or else the Isles will struggle to light the lamp.
The potential Hart candidate didn't go without a shot in 48 regular-season games, but was quiet at the worst possible time for a team relying on him for offense.
Team-wide, the Islanders have now lost five straight to the Penguins dating back to the regular season by a combined total of 21-5, so you have to wonder the confidence factor for New York. They came in looking to finish their checks against the Pens and let Pittsburgh know they couldn't take them for granted, but lost that intensity once they fell behind on the scoreboard.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was tested early, but the Islanders attack waned as the game got out of reach.
New York now has a day to regroup and look to put together a more complete effort Friday night at Consol Energy Center, and need some of theirstars to show up soon - or else it could be a very short return to the playoffs.