I will go on the record and say I wanted the Islanders to avoid the Boston Bruins at all costs before the playoffs began. I made that remark on the PTIsles Podcast when asked who I preferred the team play in the first round (P.S. I wanted the Pens). Well, a lot can change in a few weeks. And here were are now on the day before the Isles are set to take on Boston in the second round after disposing of the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
This is now the third consecutive postseason where the Islanders have made it past the first round under head coach Barry Trotz. Each time has been more impressive than the last. But one challenge the Islanders have yet to face as their success has continued is the Bruins. The closest thing they got in terms of the same type of matchup was in the Conference finals last year in the bubble against the eventual Cup-champion Lightning; that Bolts’ squad dismantled the Bruins in five games in the previous round before knocking off the Islanders.
Now though comes the real thing for the first time since 1983, ironically the last year the Islanders won it all for a fourth consecutive season. Maybe the hockey gods are trying to send a message. I say that because it feels like the Isles and Bruins have been on a crash course waiting to meet for a number of years now.
For more than half of the 2010s, the Bruins were far superior to the upswing Islanders. Whenever the Isles shipped up to Beantown (shoutout Dropkick Murphys) or when they hosted the B’s, it usually ended in a loss. Boston’s Tuukka Rask has been a nemesis for the Islanders nearly his entire career. In fact, up until this past season, the Islanders hadn’t defeated the Bruins on home ice dating back to March 2011; the Islanders won every game on Coliseum ice against the Bruins of the four times they met. Overall though, the Islanders have closed the sizable gap between them and their second-round foe in recent years.
Nelson and McAvoy exchanging pleasantries behind the Bruins net pic.twitter.com/bmJEnRLYMu
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 11, 2021
“I think we’re very similar,” Trotz said on a radio spot with TSN1050 yesterday. “We probably don’t have the top high-end guys, but the style of play we both are straight line and physical. They can check you to death as well.”
It will not be easy for the Islanders in any fashion, as much as this series is evenly matched on a number of fronts. The Isles and Bruins play the same grinding, physical style and have the goaltending to back it all up. Special teams and coaching in addition could very well help also decide which team goes on and which team goes home. Then there’s Boston’s “Perfection Line”.
That trio consisting of Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-David Pastrnak is regarded as one of the greatest in the game, if not the best. The Islanders know all too well how much they are to handle and how easily they can change games on a dime. But as we’ve seen now in the last few postseasons, these Isles aren’t intimidated by opposing squad’s star power.
They just shut down Sidney Crosby for the second time in three years; Crosby had just two points in six games. They did a number on Alexander Ovechkin the postseason prior to this year. Plus they allowed very little to the Flyers’ top guns in the bubble. Boston’s three-headed monster may provide the hardest challenge which will make for some fantastic hockey.
The prediction makers for this battle have the Bruins prevailing in less than six games. That’s fine. The Islanders are the underdog going into this series. That’s what they want. They thrive in that role. It’s been that way since a certain former captain left them high and dry for his native Toronto three years ago. This next challenge is one that’s been in the making for the Islanders.
To be considered championship ready — which the organization has been moving toward for a few seasons now — the Isles need to go through Boston. They remain one of the biggest obstacles the team has had to deal with in more ways than one for a long time.
The Islanders now have to pass this next test. If they do, it will go a long way and get them one step closer to their ultimate goal of lifting the Stanley Cup.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @RTaub_