Wednesday night the New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the third straight season. Looking ahead, an extremely difficult matchup awaits the Isles in the second round where they’ll face the Boston Bruins.
The Isles finished the season with a winning record against the Bruins, beating them in five of their eight matchups. Normally this would instill confidence in the blue and orange faithful headed into Game One Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Bruins have won the last three matchups and have been one of the best teams in hockey since the trade deadline.
Although both teams advanced to the second round, the Bruins did so more convincingly. The Bruins dispatched the Washington Capitals in five games, winning four straight games. After winning game three Boston ran away from the second seeded Caps.
The Islanders, on the other hand, sent the Penguins packing in six games winning three straight games. Over the course of the series the Isles often had to lean on rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin to bail out sloppy defensive play and costly neutral zone turnovers. In the end the Pens’ poor goaltending and head-scratching defensive errors presented enough chances for the Isles to upset the top seeded Pens.
The Bruins averaged 3.2 goals per game in the first round and the Islanders averaged a surprising 3.5 goals per game. Unfortunately for New York, their first round offensive efficiency will be harder to replicate in round two, as Tuukka Rask is an elite goaltender surrounded by a strong defense.
That strong Bruins defense only allowed 2.0 goals per game against Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals. The Caps scored 35 more goals during the regular season than the Isles did.
Since acquiring forward Taylor Hall at the trade deadline, the Bruins have been on fire. Hall has rediscovered his form that once won him the Hart Trophy and has ignited the Bruins second line. His addition has made the Bruins offense multidimensional. They no longer need to rely exclusively on “The Perfection Line” to carry the load.
“The Perfection Line” might be the difference in this series. The Bruins and Isles play very similar styles, but having arguably the best line in hockey, a huge advantage over the Islanders. Although the Bruins now have more scoring depth, it is important to note how potent their first line still is. Of their 16 first round goals, they accounted for 8 of them.
For the Islanders their second line was the difference maker against Pittsburgh. Not to be outshined, they scored 9 of the teams 21 goals in the first round. To advance past the Bruins, Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey will need to replicate that performance.
This last night might have been one of the prettiest goals the Islanders have scored in years pic.twitter.com/TuzPXvmOpV— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 27, 2021
The first round concluded with the Islanders first line remaining relatively quiet. Jordan Eberle did tally some crucial goals later in the first round. He will need to build on that success and line-mate Mathew Barzal will need to be a factor for the Isles to advance.
Head coach, Barry Trotz, told reporters, “We’re going to have a big challenge with the Boston Bruins. They’re playing very well as you saw. They played the Capitals and they’ve got some game changers there, too. The perfection line, and then they’ve really added to that second line. They’re a deep team that plays the right way. It’ll be an event for both teams.”
A big challenge may be an understatement. The Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season and the Islanders have a lot of room for improvement following the first round. To return Lord Stanley to Long Island the blue and orange must rise to the occasion starting Saturday night.
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