The Islanders will take on a similar team in the Bruins in the second round of the 2021 playoffs.
The New York Islanders beat the odds and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games to move on to the second round of the 2021 playoffs. They’ll be facing the always-dangerous Boston Bruins.
This marks the first time these two meet in the playoffs since 1983.
The regular season games between these two teams were interesting. The Islanders won the first five but lost the final three, all of which came after the trade deadline.
That makes it tough to make a confident prediction about their upcoming playoff series. Another factor that makes coming up with a prediction hard is that both teams are so similar.
They both have great coaches, elite defenses, and excellent goaltending. Both teams will also need to rely on their depth and physicality and will hope that their trade deadline acquisitions step up.
Let’s take a look at how both teams stack up and what the Islanders must do in order to emerge victorious.
From top to bottom, the Islanders’ forwards are going to have to step up in big ways. The top line, in particular, is going to have to be great. This line wasn’t nearly as impactful as it should have been in the Islanders’ first series against the Penguins.
As was mentioned in the Islanders-Penguins series recap, as valuable as Leo Komarov is, he isn’t expected to produce the way Anders Lee did in that position and he is holding that line back, but that can’t be an excuse for Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
Eberle is a skilled veteran and Barzal is the team’s best player and playmaker. Barzal, in particular, must be better against the Bruins. He recorded just three assists in the first series, which isn’t ideal.
Against a team such as the Bruins, your best player has to be just that and do much more than Barzal did against Pittsburgh. And if Barzal gets going, then his linemates get going, and the Islanders have yet another dangerous weapon.
It’s especially important that the top line produces because they’ll be going up against Boston’s top guys, the “Perfection Line”. The best two-way line and one of the best lines in hockey, the Bruins’ number one line is their most dangerous weapon and one that the Islanders must be wary of.
For that reason, New York’s top line has to step up. Komarov will have a significant role to play, as well.
Barry Trotz praises him for his physicality and toughness, and those are traits he’s going to have to use against the dangerous Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
The Bruins, who are a gritty team themselves, are aware of the Islanders’ physicality and forechecking. Komarov is going to need to exemplify that.
As we’ve mentioned, the Islanders’ second line shined during the first round and was a significant reason why the team was so successful.
Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, and Brock Nelson, who combined for a whopping nine goals in six games against Pittsburgh, are going to have to do it all again because this series could end up becoming the battle of the second lines.
They’ll be going up against Taylor Hall, David Krejci, and Craig Smith. Hall has been excellent for the Bruins and was key in helping them win their three games against the Islanders to end the regular season, scoring four goals.
Evidently, Boston’s second line is excellent. The Islanders’ will just have to be better.
It could end up becoming the battle of the second lines, but each team’s x-factor is probably their third lines. For the Bruins, the third line hasn’t been as advertised this season.
Nick Ritchie had a good-not-great year, Jake DeBrusk was inconsistent during the regular season but good against the Washington Capitals in round one of the playoffs, and Charlie Coyle has been bad and nowhere near as impactful as he was during last season’s playoffs.
The Islanders’ third liners will be expected to shut these guys down, something we know they can do.
We know that Oliver Wahlstrom is doubtful for game one and after the game Travis Zajac had on Wednesday, it’s likely that he’ll remain in the lineup in the rookie’s stead.
Zajac is a valued veteran with experience who’s a great two-way forward. Bruins-killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau isn’t much different. Pageau is going to be key for the Islanders in this series.
He was good against the Penguins, but will have to step up here. He recorded eight points in eight games against the Bruins during the regular season and will be expected to be impactful against them both offensively and defensively.
Speaking of Bruins’ killers, Kyle Palmieri is another x-factor for the Islanders. While still with the New Jersey Devils, Palmieri scored five goals against the Bruins this season. This is especially telling since Palmieri had a down season in terms of goal-scoring.
Palmieri wasn’t great with the Islanders after being acquired, but did score three huge goals for them against Pittsburgh. Impactful offense is going to be expected of him.
We’ve talked about the importance of physicality and forechecking, characteristics that are best embodied by the members of the Islanders’ fourth line.
Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, the members of the “Identity Line”, are going to be asked to do what they do best.
The Bruins have a good, physical, defensive fourth line team, too, but they’re not as offensively impactful as the Islanders’, which could be a weakness. They combined for zero goals and just one assist against the Capitals.
The Islanders have the best fourth line in the game, a gritty trio that’s defensively solid and can score when called upon. They’re going to be as important as ever here.
Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, the Islanders’ top defensive pairing, were one of the best defensive pairings in hockey this season. However, this wasn’t the case in the Islanders’ series against Pittsburgh.
Overall, the two played well, but they’re going to have to be much better against Boston. They got off to a pretty rough start against Sidney Crosby’s line and, in a way, lucked into Crosby and company’s struggles.
The “Perfection Line” is a completely different animal and Pelech and Pulock will have to be on top of their game from the get-go or they and their teammates are in big trouble. Continued offensive success from these two guys can’t hurt, either.
Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield were arguably the team’s best defensive pairing against the Penguins and must be as good at both ends against Boston. Defensive depth is crucial against such an elite group of forwards.
Noah Dobson and Andy Greene were outshot badly in the first round and expectations aren’t too high for these two. This is great news for Boston’s bottom six forwards.
We can’t expect Dobson and Greene to completely turn things around in this series, and that’s exactly why the Islanders’ top-four blueliners must be at their absolute best.
The Bruins’ defense is no joke, either. The Islanders had the second-best defense in the league this season, but the Bruins weren’t far behind. They had the fourth-lowest goals against average in the league and.
Charlie McAvoy is one of the best defensemen in the league and Matt Grzelcyk compliments him well.
The Islanders might encounter difficulty getting things done against them, but must work on getting past Boston’s remaining four defensemen if they hope to win.
The good news for the Islanders is that Boston’s blueline is pretty banged up and it’s still unclear if some of their starters will be cleared to play.
On paper, Boston has the upper hand with regards to goaltending, but no one should sleep on the Islanders. Tuukka Rask is a seasoned veteran who’s still capable of playing elite hockey.
He doesn’t even need to be at his absolute best to lead his team to a win. At the other end, we have the fascinating rookie Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin was phenomenal in round one and remains undefeated in his playoff career.
He doesn’t have the experience that Rask does, but we know that he’s fully capable of stepping up when it matters most and will be a key part of this Islanders’ team in this round.
And if he struggles, Semyon Varlamov is more than eager to reclaim the starting job.
The Islanders, who have a top penalty kill but a not-so-great power play, will be dealing with a very different team in round two regarding special teams. Like Pittsburgh, Boston has an elite power play, but their penalty kill is also top-tier.
They allowed the third-fewest power play goals in the league during the regular season and scored five power play goals in five games against the Capitals.
The Islanders won’t improve overnight on the man-advantage, but they are capable of shutting their opponents down while shorthanded. That’s exactly what they’ll have to do against Boston.
The Bruins and Islanders are similar teams, each having a slight edge in offense and defense, respectively. We’ve gone over different aspects of this Islanders team, but haven’t mentioned the fact that luck is a reason why they’re here.
Several important Penguins players underperformed, and that isn’t something they can count on against Boston. Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry is a significant reason why they went home early.
His performance was appalling and allowed the Islanders to move on after six, even though they really weren’t the better team throughout most of the series. The chances of Rask playing so poorly are slim to none.
The Islanders are going to have to play at their best for 60 minutes every game if they want to win. Home ice could end up being especially important for the Islanders: the Bruins won zero games at Nassau Coliseum this season.
The Islanders are in for a tough one, but they do have the advantage in several areas and are capable of taking down this dangerous Boston team.