The Boston Bruins earned some much-needed rest after a heavy five-game series with the Washington Capitals. Their six-day layoff ends Saturday as another heavy matchup awaits against the New York Islanders.
Barry Trotz’s club completed their six-game series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. The Islanders stymied a skilled Pens bunch with their aggressive checking game and opportunistic attacking zone rhythm against a shaky Tristian Jarry. Rookie Ilya Sorokin shined bright between the pipes with four stellar victories.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad encountered their struggles against the Isles dropping the first five games of their regular season series. Things looked a bit different in the last three matchups following the trade deadline. Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar provided timely scoring as the Bruins earned three straight wins to close out the eight-game series.
The Islanders are a year removed from a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final. They don’t possess the deepest depth of skilled players. But they make up for it with a tight-checking system and stingy transition game.
In some regard, the Bruins will face a mirror image starting Saturday night in front of a nearly-full TD Garden crowd.
“Very well-coached. They’re a patient team, they defend well. I think they have a lot of our attributes,” Cassidy said of the Islanders. “They want to be structured, they want to be disciplined, they have good goaltending. Their D, they want to get involved, but they play D first. They have different lines that can hurt you. In that regard, we’re playing ourselves a little bit.”
The Bruins and Isles are a little over 24 hours away from their first postseason matchup since 1983. How can Cassidy and company advance to the NHL’s version of the Final Four?
Here are three keys to a Bruins’ series win over the Islanders.
Avoid the unnecessary penalties
Boston’s stout penalty kill personnel faced a significant challenge with Washington’s potent power play unit. They limited the damage against Alex Ovechkin and company, allowing three goals in 21 chances.
Even with the alarming amount of time spent on the penalty kill, Boston’s shorthanded confidence didn’t waver. Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Every time Ovechkin fired his patented one-timer from the faceoff circle, the shorthanded unit came up with a clutch block. They limited time and space for Carlson to work with at the point. At times where the Caps developed quality scoring chances for Oshie and Kuznetsov in front, Tuukka Rask was up the task as the last line of defense.
Giving up more than four power play chances per game isn’t the best recipe for success. At times, Brad Marchand and the Bruins caught themselves taking retaliatory and unnecessary penalties against the heavy Caps. Yet, the frequent visits to the penalty box didn’t come back to haunt the Bruins in Round 1.
“You try to be as disciplined as possible,” Bruins President Cam Neely said. “We talk a lot about Washington’s power play and not giving them too many opportunities, which we didn’t really follow the game plan with that. I’ve got to give our penalty killers a lot of credit and the coaching staff to get the players prepared for that power play. I thought we did a really good job. The best thing for us to do is try to be as disciplined as possible and not to take the bad penalties, meaning maybe in the offensive zone or the neutral zone. There’s times when you have to take a penalty and maybe try to avoid a great scoring chance. It’s the lazy penalties we have to stay away from.”
The Bruins won’t have to worry about Ovechkin’s one-timer, Carlson’s point prowess, or Backstrom’s half-wall presence in Round 2.
The Islanders are more of a middle-of-the-road power-play unit, converting less than 20 percent of their chances during the regular season. Yet, the Isles’ man-advantage came through with some timely markers against Pittsburgh’s struggling penalty kill.
The Islanders spent an average of 4:30 of power-play time on ice in Round 1. Keeping them at or near that pace would provide a good omen for Boston’s top-tier penalty kill. Preventing the ‘lazy penalties,’ as Neely alluded to, will help that cause.
Expose the top-six mismatch
The Mat Barzal and 2015 Draft storyline took center stage immediately after the Isles’ series clincher over the Penguins. The talented centerman for sure provides a challenging proposition for Boston’s potent top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and the Matt Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy pairing.
It took six years for GM Don Sweeney to build his deepest forward core after whiffing on his trio of 2015 first-round selections. By April, he turned a nightmare scenario of entering the playoffs as a one-line team to establishing his best top-six core yet to go along with a complimentary bottom-six.
Hall’s arrival immediately brought a renewed presence on the second line with the crafty David Krejci and the blue-collar Craig Smith. The trio stood out in the last three regular-season matchups against the Islanders, combining for 10 points on five goals and five assists.
Pastrnak’s re-emergence in Games 4 and 5 provided another needed development against the Capitals. Marchand and Bergeron’s knack for clutch goals throughout the series provided a significant mismatch against former Bruin Zdeno Chara and Washington’s defensive core. Hall, Krejci and Smith all delivered timely moments as well.
The Isles have some nice complementary pieces for Barzal. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and former Devil Kyle Palmieri developed quite the success against the Bruins throughout their tenures. Anthony Beauviller and Brock Nelson both provided timely lamplighters against a shaky Tristian Jarry in Round 1. Jordan Eberle’s skillset provides a talented one-two punch with Barzal.
A good chunk of Boston’s top-six developed quite the postseason track record over the years. They’ll have their hands full facing a big but mobile Isles defensive core highlighted by their top-four of Adam Pelech, Ryan Puloch, Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield. But the experience and their performance leading up to Round 2 provide Boston’s first and second lines the edge on paper.
Balance the line between patience and opportunity against Isles’ trap
The heightened intensity of playoff hockey provides little breathing room. Surely, you’ll see a share of highlight-reel goals, saves and hits, and teams will encounter a break or two along the way. But, with little room to work with, every player participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has to fight for their space to establish puck possession and quality zone time.
Lou Lamoriello built the Isles into the heavy-checking mold. His trap-happy philosophy helped the New Jersey Devils earn three Stanley Cups in the latter years of the ‘Dead Puck Era.’ Surely the Devils had their stalwarts in Scott Neidermeyer, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur. But they also signed, drafted, and traded for quality complimentary pieces along the way like Jason Arnott, Claude Lemieux and Bobby Holik (to name a few).
Somehow, Lamorillo’s system remained a steady presence after the league got rid of the two-line pass rule following the 2004-05 lockout. The Islanders hired the right man to run the system in Trotz in 2018. They’ve captured at least one playoff series in each of the last three seasons.
The neutral zone trap can lull any team to sleep. The injury-plagued Bruins encountered significant road bumps finding their way through the Isles’ layers in the first five meetings. Hall helped open things up upon his arrival to Boston, helping the Bruins to three straight triumphs to close out the eight-game series.
“It was really tight-checking, structured hockey,” Bergeron said of the eight regular-season matchups. “And I think that’s what we’re expecting [again for Round 2].”
The Bruins and Islanders pride themselves on establishing a well-rounded, 200-foot game. Both teams built themselves from the D out.
Yet, the Bruins have an edge in game-changing talent with the likes of Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand, Hall, Krejci, Smith, Rask and McAvoy (to name a few). And similar to Round 1, they hope to balance out a healthy attack with a patient, but opportunistic approach against the trap-happy Islanders.
“I think you adapt and you adjust in the playoffs, from one round to the next and also during the series,” Bergeron added. “We’re expecting a tight [matchup] and a very hard series.”
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