In the first five games this season against the New York Islanders, the Boston Bruins were 0-3-2 and searching for some success against the second-place team in the MassMutual East Division. When the Bruins hosted the Islanders for a two-game series at the TD Garden the last two nights, it was a chance for them to get some confidence against a possible playoff opponent, should they both qualify.
Boston was able to turn the tables on the Islanders and sweep the two-game series, winning 4-1 Thursday night and then had an impressive 3-0 shutout Friday night. Here are three takeaways from the two games, in which the Bruins were able to move six points ahead of the New York Rangers for the division’s final playoff berth.
Second Line Quickly Finding Chemistry
Taylor Hall looked like someone who had not played in a game in a while when he made his Bruins’ debut Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres following Sunday night’s trade. In fact, it had been 10 days in between games for the left wing as the Sabres shut him down ahead of the trade deadline. After working out the kinks against his former team, it was a different-looking Hall and a different-looking second line for the Black and Gold against the Islanders.
Thursday night, Craig Smith scored a first-period power play goal on an assist from David Krejci for a 2-0 lead. Boston was clinging to a 2-1 lead early in the third period when David Pastrnak sent a stretch pass to Hall, who broke in alone to score his first goal as a Bruin. It was an overall strong game for Hall, Smith, and Krejci as they had two goals, one assist, and combined for 10 shots on net.
Friday night, the trio picked up where they left off the night before with their energy and aggressive forecheck. It led to Hall scoring his second goal in as many games when he tipped a pass from Krejci between the pads of Islanders’ goalie Ilya Sorokin for a 2-0 lead in the second period. The line combined for six more shots on net.
Krejci has to be happy with the trade Bruins general manager Don Sweeney made for Hall. It gives him something that he has been missing in recent seasons, the threat of a goal-scoring wing. In fact, he now has two goal-scoring wings that are producing as Smith has six goals and 10 assists in his last 15 games.
The recent play of the Bruins fourth line has got a lot of attention with the addition of Curtis Lazar, who came from Buffalo in the Hall trade, but the second line is finding some chemistry and producing some secondary scoring behind the top line, something they have been missing.
Rask and Swayman Shutdown Islanders
Tuukka Rask returned March 25 from an upper-body injury against the Islanders, but unfortunately, his return lasted only one period. He would be replaced by Jaroslav Halak in the second period of the Bruins’ 4-3 overtime loss after he reaggravated his upper-body injury. Rask would go on to miss another three weeks, before returning Thursday night against the Islanders again. This time, the former Vezina Trophy winner was able to finish the game and collect a milestone in the process.
After missing nearly six weeks, Rask looked sharp in his return, making 22 saves for his 300th career victory. He was calm, cool, and collective between the pipes, while controlling rebounds and making some timely saves. Rask is the Bruins’ all-time leader in wins and became the 37th goalie in NHL history to record 300 victories. His next win will tie him former Rangers’ goalie Mike Richter for 35th on the NHL’s all-time list.
Rookie goalies Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar have played very well in the absence of Rask and Halak, who is currently on the NHL COVID-19 protocols list, but getting Rask back healthy and returning to his form is going to be key for the remainder of the season.
Speaking of Swayman, the 22-year-old recorded his first career NHL shutout in Friday’s 3-0 win. He made 25 saves, including several in the first two periods on odd-man rushes. He stopped Michael Dal Colle on a breakaway in the first period, then made one save each on Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson, who broke in 2-on-1 while the Bruins were on the power play. With each game he plays, Swayman is becoming more confident, being aggressive in challenging shots and cutting down angels.
Bruins Turn the Tables in the Third Period on the Islanders
In the first five meetings this season, the Islanders outscored the Bruins, 10-1 in the third period. In the first four games, the game was tied entering the third period and New York outscored Boston a combined 8-0 to win those games. In the last meeting on March 25, the Bruins held a 2-1 lead entering the third period, only to be outscored, 2-1, and eventually lost in overtime.
Thursday night, the Bruins led, 2-1, just like the last meeting, entering the third period, but goals from Hall and Brad Marchand helped the Bruins win the game. Friday night, the Bruins held a 2-0 lead after two periods and a Lazar goal in the final minute was the only goal of the period.
Closing games against the Islanders had been an issue this season in the first five meetings. Rask needed to make just five third-period saves in Thursday’s game and Swayman made nine saves in the final period Friday to complete his shutout. Outscoring the Islanders, 3-0, in the last two games in the third period should give the Bruins some confidence going forward should the two teams meet in the playoffs.