BRIGHTON, Mass – With the New York Islanders taking care of business against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a raucous Nassau Coliseum, the Boston Bruins now know in the second round they will face a team in the Isles that gave them a pretty hard time during the regular season.
The B’s were able to have a lot more luck after the NHL trade deadline against New York as they took three wins from the Isles while making it seem like a different matchup, but New York did give them major trouble in third periods (outscoring them by an 8-3 margin) all season while Boston battled to a 3-3-2 record against them. The Bruins are an impressive 16-5-1 since the NHL trade deadline and clearly have been a different team before, and after, the mid-April trade deadline.
The Bruins are certainly expecting it to be a tight-checking series where there won’t be a lot of free space on the ice, and perhaps there won’t be quite as many offensive chances as there would have been in a playoff series against the Penguins.
“Obviously, the Islanders play a less open system than Pittsburgh. So, it may be a little more similar to our style where they still want to score, but things may be a little tighter and they are comfortable in those 1-1 games,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Pittsburgh is a team that was willing to trade chances a little more than the Islanders. The Islanders [defensemen] are heavier and a little tougher to get on the inside.
“The Penguins would often matchup Crosby against the Patrice Bergeron line, so it would be strength against strength. Whereas the Islanders most times will want to use Pageau or the Cizikas line, so you’re talking about a different animal when it comes to matchups.”
The best guess here: This will be a series of close games with solid two-way players on both sides and a red-hot goalie in Ilya Sorokin that played very well against the Penguins. The Perfection Line will see a steady diet of either the third or fourth checking line competition with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas clamoring to play shutdown roles against Bergeron and Co.
Certainly, the Isles boast a top-10 penalty kill just like the Bruins, and they will guard the front of the Isles net with rugged, big and strong defenders. They finished 20th in the NHL in power play percentage during the regular season but weren’t far off from the B’s PP success rate through the first round of the playoffs.
With Anders Lee lost to a season-ending injury, though, the sobering truth for the Islanders is that they can’t hang with Boston’s goal-scoring and playmaking depth if the two forward lines are rolling for the Black and Gold. Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson were a handful for the Penguins to tackle in Game 6 and Josh Bailey did some damage offensively for the Islanders during the first round series, and Mat Barzal is a dazzling offensive talent.
One thing to watch out for: Pageau and Kyle Palmieri have been big time Bruins killers in the past and combined for 10 goals (five apiece for Pageau and Palmieri) against the Black and Gold this season.
Still, it feels like the Islanders can’t match the firepower that the Boston Bruins will be bringing to the party, and that should be the difference when push comes to shove for two big, heavy physical hockey teams with solid all-around games, excellent goaltending and smart coaching staffs that get the most out of their players.
When will it all begin? Well, the best bet is a Saturday night start at TD Garden between the Bruins and Islanders that should go closer to the seven game distance than Boston’s first round matchup against a Capitals team that felt like they fell apart in the middle of the playoff series.