Courtesy Twitter: @NYIslanders

Leen Amin

The Islanders have been gritty and pesky, but there’s room for improvement as they look to eliminate the reigning champions.

The New York Islanders have come back to tie their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning at two. This is the third series in a row that they’ve won Game 3 after going down 2-1.

They haven’t been perfect, but given the fact that they’re playing the reigning Stanley Cup champions who are arguably the best team in hockey, they’ve done well.

Barry Trotz is coaching a good game and several of the team’s key players such as Mathew Barzal, the entire fourth line, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock are stepping up.

The Islanders are playing with an edge and doing the nitty-gritty to keep them in this one. Let’s take a look at who’s done well and who needs to step up in order to play for the Cup.

The Forwards

As was the case in the Boston series, we can’t talk about the success of the Islanders without talking about Mathew Barzal. Barzal has three goals in four games and has been no worse than the team’s third-best player this series.

The Islanders needed him to be their best player and he hasn’t disappointed.

His linemates haven’t been too shabby, either. Leo Komarov has been the player that we’ve seen throughout the playoffs and brings important intangibles to the table.

The numbers haven’t really been there for Jordan Eberle who has just two assists, but he’s been a strong player for his team.

Analytically speaking, Barzal has been one of the best players in either conference final. He’s showing off his elite speed, playmaking ability, creativity, and skill at zone entries.

Ideally, Barzal continues to fuel his linemates and helps get Eberle’s scoring touch going again because they’re going to need all the goals they can get.

The Islanders’ second line, or the “Killer B’s” haven’t been nearly as dominant as they were in the first two series, but they’re getting some points.

Anthony Beauvillier has been the most disappointing of the three, recording just one assist and not being as dominant.

Brock Nelson has a goal and an assist, but has only been one of the team’s better players in one game this series.

Josh Bailey has stood out the most. He has two goals and has shown off his intelligence as a hockey player on several occasions.

Even so, this line is going to need to explode. It’s unlikely that the Islanders come out of this series victorious without the second line playing at their best. They’re so important to this team in every aspect.

The third line is perhaps the team’s most interesting in this series. None of Kyle Palmieri, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Travis Zajac have a point, but they’ve played well in every game.

They just don’t have the numbers to show for it. The goal must be for them to keep playing well up and down the ice, but to add goal contributions to that.

Pageau leads the team in points in these playoffs and has been key to the Islanders’ success. He’s going to have to start getting on the board again.

The fourth line continues to do what they do best. The “Identity Line” has been good all series, but are the reason the Islanders tied the series on Saturday.

The Islanders have been playing gritty hockey and forcing turnovers and the fourth line are a key reason why. They’re showing off their strengths, but are also putting up points.

Casey Cizikas is the only member of this line with no points. Matt Martin has a goal and an assist and Cal Clutterbuck has been particularly impressive, notching a goal and two helpers. They’re stepping up and doing what they need to do and more.

The Defense

Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are having their best series of these playoffs and must maintain this level of play. Pulock was the Islanders’ worst player in Game 2, but has otherwise been great and Pelech has been the team’s best defenseman.

We also can’t talk about Pulock without talking about his unbelievable play in the final seconds of Game 4 to send his team home with the win. This play will go down in Islanders’ history.

The two got off to a slow start in the Pittsburgh series and were good but not especially great against Boston. They’ve come out swinging in this one and have been impactful both offensively and defensively.

There isn’t much hope for the Islanders if these two aren’t on top of their game and it’s a relief to their team and fans that they’re playing like the top-tier defensive pairing that they are.

Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield haven’t been as great as they were in the Pittsburgh series, but have improved since the Boston series. Overall, they’ve been decent defensively.

Leddy has stepped up, too. He has an assist and has been one of the team’s better defensemen. Mayfield was the Islanders’ best player in Game 2, but their worst in Game 4. He has to be better in his own zone and the Islanders would like for him and Leddy to get on the board.

Andy Greene is having his best series yet and is standing tall in his own zone, but that seems to have come at the cost of his linemate, Noah Dobson.

Dobson, as well as Greene, had a rough introduction to the 2021 playoffs. They were on the receiving end of a lot of offensive chances by Pittsburgh.

However, Dobson stepped up and was the team’s best defenseman in the Boston series. He’s now having his worst series yet and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

He’s been one of, if not the, team’s worst player in every game and was so bad on Saturday that he was benched. Barry Trotz now finds himself in a dilemma as Dobson’s leash is growing shorter.

Goaltending

There isn’t much to say about Semyon Varlamov. He’s had one rough game and has been pretty solid, otherwise. He hasn’t been sensational, but has come up with some big saves in big moments.

The Islanders remain in good hands with him, especially with the defense playing well in front of him.