Bruins

Bruins-Islanders Round 2 playoff preview, analysis, key matchup

Bruins

Many hockey fans are about to see the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

These teams will meet in the second round following the Islanders' first-round clinching Game 6 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. The Bruins eliminated the Washington Capitals in Game 5 last Sunday.

Boston has the home ice advantage as the No. 3 seed hosting the No. 4 seed from the East Division. Game 1 is Saturday night at TD Garden.

This is the first playoff meeting between these teams since the 1983 Wales Conference Final, which the Islanders won in six games en route to their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup title.

Bean: What B's can expect from strong, balanced Islanders team

Which team has the edge? What is the key matchup, and which goalie situation is more favorable? Here's our playoff preview for Bruins vs. Islanders. (All stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Regular Season Head-to-Head

The season series between the Bruins and Islanders really is a two-part story. 

The Bruins struggled mightily against the Islanders for most of the year, going winless in the first five matchups (0-3-2). However, after both teams made meaningful moves before the trade deadline, the Bruins dominated the series by winning the last three games and outscoring the Islanders by a 10-3 margin.

Here are some key 5-on-5 stats from the regular season series overall.

 
Bruins 5v5 Stats Vs. Islanders
Shot Attempt % 55.87
Shots on Net % 56.17
Goals For 11
Goals Against 14
Scoring Chances For 195
Scoring Chances Against 157
Save % 0.916

After the trade deadline, the B's controlled more than 60 percent of the shot attempts, shots on net and scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the three games against the Islanders. They also out scored New York 5-2 at 5-on-5. 

The post-trade deadline numbers are a better indication of what this second-round series could look like because those rosters are what we'll see over the next two weeks.

Key Matchup

Slowing down the Islanders begins with cooling off a red-hot second line that dominated in the series-clinching Game 6 versus the Penguins. New York's trio of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey scored eight 5-on-5 goals in Round 1, including one from Beauvillier and two from Nelson on Wednesday night.

The Islanders' first line has not been very potent in the playoffs so far. No. 1 center Mathew Barzal scored zero goals and tallied one 5-on-5 assist in six games versus the Penguins. 

The second line is on fire, and that's where the B's need to put their shutdown line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak as far as matchups go. We also should expect to see the Charlie McAvoy-Matt Grzelcyk pairing often deployed against the Isles' second line, especially at TD Garden where the B's have the last line change as the home team.

The Bruins' second line of Taylor Hall, David Krejci and Craig Smith has been awesome since the team acquired Hall at the trade deadline. They were good in Round 1, too, scoring three goals in five games against the Capitals, including Smith's Game 3 winner in double overtime. This trio still has another level (or two) to hit, though.

If the Bruins' second line is even with the Islanders' in terms of scoring, the B's should be in pretty good shape because they have a deeper and more talented group of forwards overall. 

Players to Watch

Mathew Barzal, C, Islanders

As noted above, Barzal was subpar offensively in the first round. He tallied three points (zero goals, three assists) but only one at 5-on-5. Barzal is the Islanders' best playmaker, a key cog on their power play and has led the team in scoring four consecutive seasons. New York will be in real trouble if he struggles for a second straight series.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Islanders

Pageau is the most notable "B's killer" left in the playoffs. He dominated Boston during the regular season with eight points (five goals, three assists) in eight games. He has scored 11 times in 31 career games versus the B's.

Pageau is a crucial part of the Islanders' third line alongside Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. He tied Beauvillier for the team lead in scoring during Round 1 with seven points (one goal, six assists) -- six of them coming at 5-on-5. New York needs another strong series from Pageau to match Boston's firepower.

Kyle Palmieri, RW, Islanders

A bunch of teams, including the Bruins, were reportedly interested in acquiring Palmieri from the Devils before the trade deadline. The Islanders got him, and he underwhelmed in the regular season with just two goals and two assists in 17 games. However, he's been more productive in the playoffs with three goals in six games -- two in Game 1 (including the overtime winner) and another in the series-deciding Game 6.

 

Palmieri is another player who loves playing against the Bruins. He scored five goals in nine games versus Boston during the regular season. Whether the Islanders receive the required amount of scoring depth to beat the B's could be largely dependent on Palmieri's performance in this series.

David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins

Pastrnak struggled a bit early in the Capitals series but got going late with a goal and an assist in both Game 4 and Game 5. His less-than-stellar production early in the series wasn't from a lack of good looks at the net, though. He led the Bruins over the five-game series with 34 shot attempts, 22 shots on net (11 more than anyone else) and 18 scoring chances during 5-on-5 action. If Pastrnak continues to generate those kinds of chances in Round 2, the floodgates could open and we might see four or more goals from him.

Charlie Coyle, C, Bruins

Coyle had a poor regular season (16 points in 51 games) and wasn't much better in Round 1. He tallied one goal and one assist with just seven shots on net in five games versus the Capitals. He's being paid like the best third-line center in the league, but he certainly hasn't performed to that level in 2021. A bounce-back series from Coyle would likely give the B's a clear advantage in scoring depth that could prove pivotal in the series outcome.

Mike Reilly, D, Bruins

The Islanders are a well-structured team defensively and they forecheck really well. They also play a tough, physical game that wears down opponents over the course of a long series. Reilly's ability to jumpstart the transition game by skating out of trouble in the defensive zone and making a good first pass up ice will be important for the Bruins. Reilly also is one of the best B's defensemen in regards to getting shots through to the net and avoiding traffic in front. This ability will also be important against an Islanders team with the third-most blocked shots in the playoffs entering Thursday.

Goalie Breakdown

Tuukka Rask, Bruins: 5 GP, .941 SV%, 1.81 GAA in first round

Rask had a rollercoaster Game 1 against the Capitals that ended with a soft overtime goal allowed. After that, he was excellent in net for Boston. Rask had a .949 save percentage over the last four games, including a Game 5 performance in which he stopped 40 of the 41 shots sent his way as the Capitals tried to extend their season. His .906 save percentage on high-danger chances in Round 1 also shows how locked in he was throughout the series.

 

The Islanders have a weaker power play than the Capitals and were 21st in goals scored per game during the regular season, whereas the Capitals were fifth in scoring. Rask probably won't have to steal the series for the Bruins -- he just needs to avoid the kind of puck-handling mistakes and soft goals we saw from Tristan Jarry that torpedoed the Penguins in the first round.

Might Islanders fans regret this 'We want Boston' chant?

Ilya Sorokin, Islanders: 4 GP, .943 SV, 1.95 GAA in first round

New York's starting netminder Semyon Varlamov was one of the best goalies in the regular season with a .929 save percentage and a 2.04 GAA in 36 games. After Sorokin started and won Game 1 of the first round, Varlamov returned from injury and got his job back. He lost the next two games and played particularly poor in Game 3, giving up five goals on just 27 shots.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz went back to Sorokin and he won the next three games. Sorokin did allow three goals in two of his four starts versus the Penguins, but overall he played quite well given the high amount of shots and scoring chances he faced. 

Sorokin needs to be the Islanders' first or second best player for them to win this series. He's capable of it, but Rask has much more playoff experience and boasts a far more impressive playoff track record. 

Prediction

Bruins in five.

This series should go a lot like the Islanders' first-round matchup but with one key difference. Like the Penguins, the Bruins should control between 55 and 60 percent of all shot attempts, shots on net and scoring chances during 5-on-5 action. The Bruins, similar to the Penguins in Round 1, should win the special teams battles against the Islanders.

The major difference is goaltending, where the Rask/Jeremy Swayman duo is superior to Jarry and the Islanders' combo of Sorokin and Varlamov. So, unless the Islanders show massive improvement at 5-on-5 against a Bruins team that defends better than the Penguins, the B's shouldn't have too much trouble reaching the semifinal.