A season in which the Islanders began to flex long unused muscles is one loss away from ending.
The Islanders were shut out by Tomas Vokoun and the Penguins, 4-0, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Pittsburgh leads the best-of-seven series, 3-2. Game 6 is set for May 11 at the Nassau Coliseum.
The game was alarmingly reminiscent of the 5-0 loss in Game 1, in which the Islanders were not aggressive against the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Pittsburgh finished with more hits (33-27) and more blocked shots (14-8) in a game in which Pegnuins head coach Dan Bylsma made personnel changes.
Along with replacing goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with Vokoun, Bylsma added Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale to the lineup in an attempt to ice a heavier, more physical team.
It was Kennedy who opened the scoring 7:25 into the second with his first goal of the series in his first game in the series. Kennedy corralled a long home run pass from Kris Letang at the Islanders blue line and bore down on Evgeni Nabokov before pumping a quick shot past the Islanders’ goaltender.
Douglas Murray flipped a harmless-looking shot from the half boards that popped up off a stick and bounced off of Nabokov into the net 1:22 later to make it 2-0.
Sidney Crosby increased the lead to 3-0 nearly six minutes later when he wove through the neutral zone and beat Nabokov stickside. Crosby’s goal was evocative of a Mario Lemieux goal scored against the Islanders in 1988, which the Penguins franchise has commemorated with a statue outside of the arena.
For all intents and purposes the competitive portion of the game was over by the second intermission, but Crosby left no doubt about the outcome by setting up Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang’s power-play goal 5:33 into the third. Crosby walked down the wall and threw a gorgeous diagonal backhand pass that Letang drove over Nabokov.
Following the goal, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano replaced Nabokov with Kevin Poulin. Poulin replaced Nabokov in the 5-0 loss in Game 1.
Vokoun made 31 saves. Nabokov allowed all four Penguins goals on 27 shots. Poulin stopped all four shots he faced.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.