The New York Islanders dropped their second-round opener on the road to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, losing by a final of 5-2. Though the scoreboard told some of the story, the bigger picture comes into frame when you break down individual players’ stats.
Going into this series, the big factor for the Islanders was how they were going to handle playing an incredibly deep and skilled Bruins team. Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins had big-name players upfront (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, etc.), but as good as those players are in their own right, no line that Pittsburgh iced during the first round could compare to the skill and chemistry that of the Bruins’ “Perfection Line.”
Highlighted by David Pastrnak’s second career playoff hat trick, the Perfection Line dominated the Islanders every time they hopped over the boards. It all started late in the first period, with the Islanders on the penalty kill for the first time in the series. Patrice Bergeron won the draw, and David Krejci (who had a three-assist game of his own) threw the puck on net from the point. Ilya Sorokin stopped it with his blocker, and it popped right onto the stick of Pastrnak. 88 waited as long as he could for a shooting lane to open up, and with Casey Cizikas tied up with Bergeron and Scott Mayfield not stepping up, the lane presented itself. Tie game.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 30, 2021
Pastrnak would strike again in the middle frame, all started by Brad Marchand digging a puck off the boards. Marchand finds Bergeron in the slot, who puts a low shot to Sorokin’s blocker side. The puck bounced off Sorokin’s pad right between the skates of Ryan Pulock, and it careened right to Pastrnak waiting alone on the back door. Leaving one of the best goal scorers in the game alone on the back door usually doesn’t end well, and, well… it didn’t. First lead of the Bruins in the series, on a goal that could’ve been prevented.
Fast forward to the third period: Charlie McAvoy scored on a rocket to give Boston a 3-2 lead, and with around four minutes left in regulation, the Isles are looking for a big goal. And that big goal came, just not for the roadside. Brock Nelson turned the puck over after being pressured by Bergeron, and the puck found its way to Pastrnak. The man they call “Pasta” walked around Josh Bailey in the neutral zone, and found yet another shooting lane opening up with trade deadline acquisition Taylor Hall cutting hard to the net. Pastrnak took it, tickled the twine, and put the dagger into the Isles’ hopes of winning game one.
Saying the Bruins’ top line simply controlled the game might even be putting it lightly. The “Perfection Line” accounted for three goals and six points in game one, including 19 shots on goal (eight from Bergeron, seven from Pastrnak, and four from Marchand). To put that into perspective, the Islanders as a team only had 22 shots on Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. In addition, with 19 shots out of the Bruins’ 40 for the game, the top line accounted for a surprising and astonishing 47.5% of the shots thrown in Sorokin’s direction.
Look, no one ever said shutting down any line with an elite scoring talent is easy to do in a playoff series, let alone three of the best scorers in the league. After game one, shutting them down completely clearly isn’t an option… but limiting them is. Looking at game one (mainly in Pastrnak’s game), the B’s first line does an outstanding job at creating time and space for themselves to make plays. They, like nearly every other elite hockey player, thrive off giving themselves room to go to work… take away that time and space, and their production is bound to go down.
In a way, I also feel the Islanders deserve a bit of a pass when it comes to this (keyword there is “a bit”, the Isles are still responsible for keeping this line at bay). Over the past few seasons, sure the Isles have faced several elite offensive players (Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Aleksander Barkov, Brayden Point) but those players (with the possible exception of Point from last year’s East Final) were the big names to watch for on their respective lines. This is easily the biggest playoff test Barry Trotz’s squad has had yet, in arguably the best forward line the NHL has to offer.
There’s no doubt that it’ll be a learning process over the course of the series when it comes to playing against the Perfection Line. With that said, the Isles better be a group of fast learners, because if the Bruins stars continue to purely dominate games during this series, the Isles’ playoff run won’t last much longer.
Follow Carter on Twitter @cbentivenga14