Are Pittsburgh Penguins Overrated or Are New York Islanders Underrated?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2013

Can the eighth seed beat the top seed for the second year in a row in the NHL playoffs? It happened last year as the Los Angeles Kings roared past the Vancouver Canucks in the first round and won the Stanley Cup.

This year, the eighth-seeded New York Islanders seem to be imposing their will on the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.

A month or so ago, the Penguins were the best team in the Eastern Conference by a wide margin and the Islanders were simply fighting for a playoff spot.

Four games into the first-round series and it looks like the two teams have reversed roles. The Islanders tied the series 2-2 with a 6-4 win in Game 4 at home Tuesday night.

They outworked, outskated and outhustled the Penguins from start to finish.

The only thing the Penguins had going for them was their skill at finishing scoring opportunities. They took a 4-3 lead in the third period when Chris Kunitz took a shot that banked off Pascal Dupuis' backside into the net past Islander goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

There was not a bit of panic on the part of the Islanders, nor should there have been. They had more than 19 minutes to even things up and win.

It was easy. First off, they were operating with impunity in the Pittsburgh zone. John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo were dominating behind the goal line in what is often referred to as "Gretzky's office."

That's where most teams like to initiate plays, but it's often difficult to operate in tight quarters because the opposing defense will play hard and take the body.

Not the Penguins. Throughout the game, the Islanders had complete freedom in that area of the ice. There was one other factor helping them: the horrid play of Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. He operated as if he could not keep his balance. He also gave up his angle on several occasions and New York pumped three goals behind Fleury in the last period to secure the victory.

Right now, the Penguins are shaking. They were eviscerated in last year's first-round matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the same thing may be happening this year.

After a poor first game, the Islanders bounced back in the second game and scored four goals on Fleury to secure a shocking win.

The Islanders played even better in Game 3, but the Penguins secured the 5-4 overtime victory. This time, the Islanders kept pushing until they got their win to tie up the series.

It was a stellar performance by the home team. The Islanders look like they are growing as a team as the series progresses. Whether they can finish the job or not, they have been able to look the Penguins in the eye and throw the more effective punches.

The Penguins were a team that dominated with their offense in the regular season while shutting down opponents. During their 15-game winning streak in March, they held opponents to two goals or fewer in 11 straight games.

The Penguins no longer appear capable of shutting down opponents. Their defense is giving opposing forwards the freedom to create, their forwards are not backchecking, and their goalie is as effective as Swiss cheese.

At the very least, head coach Dan Bylsma must pull the overwhelmed Fleury and let veteran Tomas Vokoun give it a go.

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano has a job to do as well. He needs to open the locker room door and tell his players, "Go get 'em." Another momentous upset may be at hand.