A look at which Islanders players are going to have to step up in order to take down the dangerous Bruins.
The New York Islanders are tied 1-1 with their rivals, the Boston Bruins, in the second round of the 2021 NHL playoffs.
As we mentioned in our series recap, the Islanders upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round, thanks to a lot of heart and perseverance, incredibly poor goaltending by Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry, and an impressive showing from their rookie netminder, Ilya Sorokin.
The Bruins humiliated the Washington Capitals in their own first series and the Islanders wouldn’t have the luxury of relying on shoddy goaltending from them or lucking into poor performances by their top players, as was the case against Pittsburgh.
In our Islanders-Bruins series preview, we talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the Bruins and Islanders as well as what the Islanders would have to do in order to win this series and move on.
Eight games into New York’s 2021 Stanley Cup campaign and two games into the second round, it’s time we take a look at the players who need to step up and play big in order to defeat a dangerous and experienced Bruins team.
We’ve mentioned the names of several Islanders forwards who would need to play well in order for the Islanders to win.
Leo Komarov isn’t necessarily expected to put up great offensive numbers, but the Islanders will take what they can get from him in that regard and do need him to be the physical and defensively solid forward that Barry Trotz has always praised.
Jordan Eberle had a wonderful regular season and did put up four points in the first series, but the Islanders are going to need more out of their number one right winger.
Komarov and Eberle have important roles to play, but all eyes are on Mathew Barzal. As we’ve mentioned, Barzal is the Islanders’ best player and the face of the franchise. He is one of the fastest skaters and best at zone entries in the entire league.
He was underwhelming in the Penguins series, recording three assists and not doing much else. Barzal wasn’t particularly noticeable in the first game of the Bruins series, but played better in game two and even notched an assist.
It isn’t impossible, as we saw in the Penguins series, but it’s difficult to see the Islanders beating the Bruins without Barzal being one of their best players.
Game two was a good start for Barzal, and the hope is that he builds on that and continues to improve.
The Islanders’ second line is a glaring reason why they won their first series. All three members stepped up and even exceeded expectations. In our series preview, we mentioned that this could end up becoming the battle of the second lines.
If that is the case, Boston’s line is winning, so far. David Krejci, who recorded a whopping three assists, and Taylor Hall (one goal) were two of the best players on the ice in game one and even Craig Smith wasn’t bad.
In that very same game, Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, and Brock Nelson were the Islanders’ three worst forwards and three of the four worst players on the ice, even though Beauvillier did score a goal.
They were definitely better in game two, but the Islanders definitely want to see more from these three guys, especially against another lethal second line that features a former MVP.
The Islanders might not necessarily need Bailey, Beauvillier, and Nelson to be as great as they were against Pittsburgh, but they will need to put up points and do a decent job defensively.
After a relatively inconsistent series to kickoff his Islanders playoff debut, Kyle Palmieri is going to have to step his game up.
We mentioned that the trade deadline acquisition was fantastic against the Bruins during the regular season while still with the New Jersey Devils, scoring five goals even during a down year.
Palmieri scored three huge goals for New York against Pittsburgh, and already has a goal and an assist in this series. He was the Islanders’ best player in their huge game two win.
If he plays like that moving forward, the Islanders’ bottom-six and power play are going to be dangerous.
Another bottom-six forward who needs to have a big series is Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Pageau has gotten off to a great start. He was good for the Islanders in game one and was almost as great as Palmieri in game two, recording a goal and an assist.
Pageau is especially important because he’s an important two-way forward for the Islanders and is one of their most valuable players on special teams, both the power play and penalty kill. A strong series from him can go a long way for his team.
Last but not least are the three members of the Islanders’ fourth line. The Islanders had issues regarding physicality, battles along the boards, and forechecking in the Pittsburgh series. The “Identity Line” stepped up there in a big way.
These three guys have already shown their value in this series. They were fine in the first game, but a reason the Islanders tied the series in game two. Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin played well and Casey Cizikas scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
This is the best fourth line in hockey and is a key reason why the Islanders are so good. Their grit and physicality against such a team as the Bruins as well as their ability to put up points in big moments will be important.
The two players that stand out on defense are the obvious ones, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. We’ve touched on the fact that the two didn’t have the best of series against Pittsburgh, especially early on, and wouldn’t have that luxury this time around.
Unfortunately, Pelech and Pulock were problematic in the first game. They were the team’s worst defensive pairing and two of the worst players on the ice.
Pulock, usually their best defenseman, was their worst, and the second-worst player on the ice.
They were much better in the second game: they were the team’s best defensive pairing and Pulock was one of the team’s best players. The hope is that their performance in that game will become the norm in this series.
Pelech and Pulock make up one of the best defensive pairings in hockey and must play like it during the postseason. The Islanders are one of the absolute best defensive teams in hockey and Pelech and Pulock being so elite is a reason why.
They have to meet expectations especially against Boston’s top line, one of the best lines in hockey.
We mentioned that even with their shortcomings, Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield were the Islanders’ best defensive pairing in the Pittsburgh series and came up big in key moments. They did a solid job defensively but were especially great offensively.
Mayfield was the team’s best player on two different occasions.
In our series preview, we discussed how Leddy and Mayfield would need to maintain their great play against Boston, especially given Boston’s depth. Unfortunately, that hasn’t quite been the case. Leddy and Mayfield looked pretty rough in game one.
They both improved in game two and Leddy even recorded an assist. Mayfield was one of the worst players on the ice, but was still much better.
With Noah Dobson and Andy Greene playing as badly as they have been, it’s even more crucial that Leddy and Mayfield do well.
The hero of the Pittsburgh series for the Islanders, Ilya Sorokin ended up conceding five goals in game one against the Bruins.
He was far from the team’s worst player and it was difficult to blame him for that loss, but maybe benching him for the well-rested veteran Semyon Varlamov was a smart move.
Although the Islanders did win, Varlamov was actually one of the team’s worst players. Even so, both goaltenders must be at their absolute best in this series.
The offensive ability of the Bruins is not to be taken lightly and the Islanders can’t afford to have their goaltenders not be at the top of their game.
It looks like the Islanders’ net is still Sorokin’s to lose and he will have to be as brilliant as he was against Pittsburgh. Now is not the time for him, or Varlamov, to falter.