Man, can a lot change in just two days.
On Wednesday, the Isles missed out on an opportunity to sweep their best-of-five qualifying round against the Florida Panthers. They fell by a score of 3-2.
Mathew Barzal, the team’s most important forward, played his worst game of the series, generating very little offense and turning the puck over ad nausea.
Just a mere 48 hours later, all of the mishaps and poor play from Barzal in the first three games were wiped away after he put on a dominant performance this afternoon in the Islanders’ series-clinching 5-1 victory.
“Mathew continually makes steps forward in his overall game, head coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the win. “He understands the importance of focusing on the moment, getting his compete level really high.”
Barzal, who got off to his best start to a game all series long, finally introduced himself into the fray with one of his two points on the day when he hit Anthony Beauvillier with a crisp feed on a 2-on-1 rush which beat Bobrovsky to double the Isles’ lead in the first.
From there, he played like a man on a mission.
Barzal was all over the place and his unrelenting speed was on display. And if not for the brilliance of Bobrovsky, his stat line could have read two or three goals.
“I thought today he kicked it up… he played fast, he was hard to handle, he had production and was dangerous all night,” Trotz added.
Barzal finding that extra gear also added to what was an excellent all-around performance from his team. The Islanders were all over the Panthers offensively outshooting them 38-25 for the game. They made the most of their opportunities with Brock Nelson scoring on one of the three power plays they were handed. And they got great games out of Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Josh Bailey.
Truly though, Barzal was really the star of the show today, and his performance — one goal, one assist, +2 and five shots on goal — said why.
That’s what made it all the more fitting that he was the one who put the exclamation point on the series, beating Bobrovsky over the shoulder on a breakaway for his first and only goal of the series to give the Islanders a 4-1 commanding lead.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) August 7, 2020
“First few games, for myself, I had to adapt — I forgot almost how hard it is to score and get to the net. How hard guys play you one on one,” Barzal told reporters. “Feel like I found it a little bit tonight.”
Barzal and the Islanders are now on to the Round of 16 where they will either face the Boston Bruins or the Washington Capitals. Both are tough matchups but ones they most definitely have a shot in.
And if today was any indication of what Barzal has in store moving forward, then the Isles should really like their chances.
A few closing thoughts to end the series:
-Hats off to Anthony Beauvillier. What a phenomenal series he had — three goals and two assists in four games. He was clearly the Isles’ best forward and most dangerous all-around threat.
-Special teams getting it done. Yeah, the Islanders allowed four power play goals to Florida’s lethal power play. But allowing that number out of 14 times shorthanded? That’s a massive victory in itself. And how about the power play? Coming into the series, there were questions about whether they would be able to capitalize after how much they struggled all year long. They showed up big time with some huge goals in some very important spots.
-Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock don’t bat an eye. Pulock himself had a wonderful series offensively with four points. But those two as a pairing once again were excellent in shutting down Florida’s top forwards. Besides Mike Hoffman’s three goals (we will get to him in a minute), the Pelech-Pulock duo did a bang-up job against Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgeni Dadonov. Those three combined for just two goals in four games.
-Andy Greene fits in like a glove. Greene taking over for Boychuk after he got hurt in game one wasn’t the way I’m sure the Isles envisioned him getting in the lineup. But overall, Greene was solid in place of his fellow veteran. He was steady in his own end and quite effective in the offensive zone.
-Semyon Varlamov. Beyond his brainfart in game three, Varlamov was sharp throughout the series. He didn’t receive as much work as some thought he might before the series began, but he made the timely saves when needed. Trotz going with him all four games shows he’s his guy and he’ll go with him until further notice.
-Mike Hoffman. Hoffman was easily the Panthers’ best player in the series other than Bobrovsky. Every time the puck was on his stick, you felt like it was gonna end up in the back of the net. Which brings us to this offseason. Hoffman is a UFA, one g.m. Lou Lamoriello should seriously consider throwing all his chips at. He’s exactly the type of player who would be perfect on Mathew Barzal’s wing and would give the Isles that bonafide scoring threat they’ve lacked for years.