Physical Penguins defense rattles Islanders

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The addition of hulking Douglas Murray at the trade deadline helped. So did the acquisition of Morrow, who took turns shadowing Tavares with Cooke.

“They’re going to play tough and physical and they can grind down a team on the forecheck,” Bylsma said. “It makes for a gritty, tough group.”

An image that doesn’t exactly fit with the one the Penguins have projected during the Crosby Era. Any concerns Pittsburgh was too soft to make a run at the Cup were dispelled in the opener when defenseman Kris Letang and Tavares found themselves sprinting toward a puck behind the Penguins‘ net.

Letang is one of the fastest players in the league. Yet rather than outsprint Tavares to the puck, he hesitated just a second and knocked Tavares on the ground before going on his way. It didn’t matter that Letang turned it over before he got to center ice. The message had been sent.

“Sacrifices have to be made,” Tavares said. “Winning isn’t easy. It’s going to hurt a little bit. You’re going to have to battle through a lot of things and we have to make sure we establish our game a little bit more, play a little quicker and not get caught up in stuff that’s going on.”

Not if the Islanders want to extend their first playoff appearance since 2007 beyond four games. Yet rather than panic or punish his players for a subpar performance, New York coach Jack Capuano kept things loose on Thursday. The team’s short 45-minute skate was short on tactics and long on laughter.

“You can see the emotion that they had today, the fun they had today,” Capuano said. “You have to enjoy this ride. There’s going to be surges, there’s going to be momentum (switches). You need to make sure that the guys stay relaxed.”

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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