The hockey gods decided the Boston Bruins got lucky enough with the goaltending they faced in the first round. They didn’t deserve Tristan Jarry.
So it will be the New York Islanders, not the Pittsburgh Penguins and their bummer of a situation in net, who will face the Bruins in the second round. The Bruins are the higher seed, so they’ll have home ice advantage just as capacity is increasing at TD Garden.
The Penguins were for sure the more desirable opponent for the B’s, but they should have felt confident going against either team. They get the trickier of the two, but should still win.
New York’s legit, though. The Islanders are a reigning Eastern Conference finalist and have both a good young goaltender and a red-hot second line.
Ilya Sorokin, a 25-year-old rookie, posted a .943 save percentage in the first round and has taken the net from Semyon Varlamov. Barry Trotz’s second line of Brock Nelson between Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey was increasingly dangerous in the first round. The line combined to score eight goals over the six games, with Beauvillier also netting a power play goal in Game 3. The line’s members tallied five goals over the final two games against Pittsburgh.
The Islanders aren’t as star-studded as the Bruins offensively but they’re more balanced. They’ve got strong duos on their top two lines (Matthew Barzal-Jordan Eberle, Nelson-Bailey) and have both Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Gabrielle Pageau on their third line. Barzal, Nelson and Pageau down the middle is very legitimate.
The Bruins probably have better high-end centers with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but Charlie Coyle’s down year has hurt Boston’s center depth.
It’s not like the Islanders have been a cakewalk for the Bruins. Boston went 0-3-2 in the teams’ first five meetings this season. Following the trade deadline, however, the Bruins went 3-0-0 against the Islanders. If the Bruins feel like a new team since getting Taylor Hall, they should assume the last couple months are a better series preview than those first five contests.
If you’re worried this could be a tight, low-scoring series, there’s a decent chance you’re right. This is a matchup of two top-five teams in goals against this season, as the Islanders (2.23 goals against per game) ranked second and Boston (2.39) ranked fourth. The B’s are fourth in goals against per game in the postseason thus far (2.00) and the Islanders are eighth (2.67, though Varlomov started two of those games).
In the regular season, the Islanders were 21st in the league in scoring with 2.71 goals per game. The Bruins’ 2.93 goals per game ranked 14th.
So expect a more methodical series than the one you just saw between the B’s and Capitals. These are two teams that reached (at least) the second round last year who don’t want to give much. That’s easier said than done for the Islanders, though; they were an underwhelming possession team this year (48.56 Corsi For percentage at five-on-five, which ranked 20th in the league), whereas the Bruins were third in the league with a 54.20 percentage.
Ideally, the young Sorokin fears the B’s. He started two games against them this season and lost both, though he only allowed three goals in each.
So why will Boston win? They’ve got the better roster, and there’s still reason to believe we haven’t seen their best. Things got easier over the course of the first round against Washington, though it may have just been the Capitals running out of gas.
The Krejci line can be better. If things start clicking for any of Boston’s bottom-sixers -- that’s especially Coyle, Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk -- the Bruins can reach another gear. Even if they don’t, they’ve still got the best offensive players and the best goalie.
I went Bruins in six last round. I want to say it again, but it feels so cowardly and there’s nothing more cowardly than picking a series to go seven, so… Bruins in five?
(But probably six.)