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Islanders need Lehner, Barzal to step up in first-round series against Penguins

The Isles open their seven-game series against Pittsburgh on Wednesday at Nassau Coliseum.

Robin Lehner ranked third in the NHL with

Robin Lehner ranked third in the NHL with a 2.13 goals against average this season. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The New York Islanders surprised a lot of people around the NHL this season by making the playoffs, despite losing star captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent last summer.

If head coach Barry Trotz and his team are to continue this Cinderella run into the postseason, however, a lot of things will have to go right. They’ll have to get off to a fast start when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night in Game 1 of their first-round series at Nassau Coliseum.

Read on for three keys for the Isles (48-27-7, 103 points) to get past Pittsburgh's star-studded roster.

Forget Batman, call Robin

Goalie Robin Lehner is arguably the best feel-good story on a team full of them. The Swede overcame bipolar disorder and substance abuse issues to have a breakout season, finishing third in the NHL (just ahead of teammate Thomas Greiss) in goals against average (2.13) and second in save percentage (.930).

Lehner and Greiss essentially split starting duties during the regular season, but most teams ride one goalie in the postseason — typically staying with the hot hand. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that Lehner won four of his last five starts, with two shutouts, while Greiss was 2-3 with a 2.40 GAA. Based on the numbers, and the grit he’s shown both on the ice and off, Lehner should get first dibs.

Rely on veterans

Second-year center Mathew Barzal may now be the team’s best player, but he’s still a playoff rookie. Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup coaching the Washington Capitals last season, will need past winners on his roster like Johnny Boychuk (Boston, 2011) and Andrew Ladd (twice), the latter of whom was a healthy scratch down the stretch, to step up and help the Isles’ young guns like Barzal and winger Anthony Beauvillier handle the added pressure of the postseason.

Make special teams special

Like most Trotz-coached teams, the Islanders are stout and stingy defensively. They allowed the fewest goals this season despite being rather pedestrian at killing penalties (18th in the league at 79.9 percent). They’ll need to improve those PK numbers — easier said than done with the Pens' Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang firing on all cylinders — while also honing their own power play (29th in the NHL at 14.5 percent) if they want to keep pace with Pittsburgh.

Brian's prediction

Islanders in 7 games

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