PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a model of consistency, yet understand the difficulty of qualifying for the playoffs.
It’s still certainly a yearly expectation for an organization that prides itself on trying to win the Stanley Cup each season.
Jake Guentzel scored twice, Sidney Crosby also had a goal and the Penguins earned a playoff berth for the 16th straight season with a 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
“You expect it,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. “The ownership, every year they try to make the best team as possible on the ice and it’s our duty to get us in the playoffs, as players.”
Guentzel scored his 36th and 37th goals and Crosby his 29th as the Penguins extended the longest active postseason streak among teams in major North American professional sports.
“Every year is a challenge,” Crosby said. “You need so many things to go right to give yourself an opportunity to play in the playoffs. It’s not given to you. It’s not easy. You appreciate those opportunities and everybody works hard to give us a chance to do that.”
Danton Heinen equaled a career high with his 16th goal, while Letang and Brock McGinn also scored for Pittsburgh, which tied Calgary for the seventh-longest playoff streak in the NHL since 1967. Tristan Jarry made 36 saves for the Penguins, who have won two of three overall. Pittsburgh has 11 wins and points in 15 of its last 17 against the Islanders.
Zach Parise, Anders Lee and Zdeno Chara scored for the Islanders, who have lost three of their last five following a four-game winning streak. Ilya Sorokin stopped 22 shots.
“This is a team you can’t trade chances with,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “You have to execute. When you don’t, they can jump on you, and they do.”
Pittsburgh scored twice in the first nine minutes of the game for an early lead. Letang beat Sorokin at 4:59 with a wrist shot from the left point and Heinen scored on a breakaway at 8:52.
Heinen just left the penalty box after a slashing call when he took a lead pass from Brian Boyle and beat Sorokin with a shot between the legs. Heinen has points in seven of 10 career games against the Islanders. Boyle has points in nine of his last 10 home games and Teddy Blueger established a career high in points with a secondary assist.
Parise cut the deficit in half at 5:51 of the second period. He took a pass from Mathew Barzal off the rush and sent a shot behind Jarry to put the Islanders on the board.
Guentzel regained Pittsburgh’s two-goal lead at 12:10 of the second. Guentzel, on a two-on-one, took a pass from Crosby and beat Sorokin with a blocker-side wrist shot.
Crosby and Guentzel combined for Pittsburgh’s fourth goal at 10:44 of the third period, following New York’s neutral-zone turnover. There was a slick passing sequence between the two on a two-on-none before Crosby finished it off with a slap shot from in close, cementing Pittsburgh’s return to the playoffs.
“It’s hard to make the playoffs,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of good teams every season that don’t make it. The fact that this organization has done it 16 consecutive years is a remarkable achievement.”
CHECKING THE BOX
The Penguins have Stanley Cup aspirations, but Sullivan felt it was important for his team to qualify for the playoffs “sooner rather than later.”
“It’s an important box to check,” Sullivan said. “Having said that, all it’s really done is give us an opportunity to compete for the ultimate goal. It’s without question worthy of recognition, but our expectations are high inside our locker room.”
Crosby’s goal was the winner, the 78th of his career. That ties Evgeni Malkin and Jaromir Jagr for the franchise record.
Crosby has three goals and eight points in his last three games played. It was his third straight multipoint effort and team-best 25th of the season.
Crosby has a team-high 80 points and he reached the milestone for the 11th time in his career, most among all active players and seventh in NHL history. He’s one goal from 30 for the 10th time in his career and is looking to join Mario Lemieux and Jagr as the only players in franchise history with 10 or more 30-goal seasons.
Crosby has 40 goals and 128 points in 78 career games against the Islanders. Pittsburgh is 49-19-20 in those games.
Only Jagr (155) and Lemieux (131) have more points against the Islanders than Crosby. Crosby has 38 multipoint games against the Islanders and 18 games without any points.
Guentzel established a career high of 78 points. His previous best was 76, which came in the 2018-19 season. He’s three goals shy of 40 for the second time in his career.
Guentzel has four goals and seven points in his last two games.
Islanders: Travel to Montreal on Friday night.
Penguins: Travel to Boston on Saturday afternoon.