The Boston Bruins and New York Islanders will meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the MassMutual East Division crown on the line. Both teams put forth fantastic performances in the first round to knock off the higher seeds, beating the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in five and six games, respectively.
The Bruins are one of the hottest teams in the league, relying on their top-six stars for much of the scoring and getting some physical play from the defense. The Islanders, on the other hand, are more balanced, getting a solid scoring effort from all four lines and more consistency personnel-wise on the back end. This formula seemed to work in the regular season, as New York won the season series with a 5-2-1 record.
Boston’s defense got banged up in Round 1, which will force others into the spotlight in Round 2. Plus, as we saw in the regular season, New York is capable of shutting down the line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Should that happen again, some other Bruins forwards will need to pick up the slack. These three players in particular must lead the way in combatting the Islanders’ complete team effort.
Injuries have plagued Boston’s blue line once again. Jeremy Lauzon took a shot to his hand in Game 1, and Kevan Miller took a high hit from Dmitry Orlov in Game 4. These two have mixed it up with opponents and gotten involved in extra-curricular activities on the ice more than any other Bruins defensemen, and their absences might give the Islanders a little more confidence in going after Boston’s star players.
This is where Brandon Carlo must step up. He has been reliable as ever since returning from injury late in the regular season — making good decisions with the puck, playing a huge role on the penalty kill, and never playing dirty. That last part may change against the Islanders, by necessity.
Carlo isn’t shy about delivering big hits, but he certainly doesn’t push the boundaries like Miller and Lauzon do. Those two are more inclined to start scrums, while Carlo ends them. If the Bruins want to stand up against New York’s instigators, he will have to get more involved. At 6-foot-5, he is Boston’s biggest defenseman, after Jarred Tinordi. Tinordi will play a part in the extra curriculars as well, but he won’t be in the lineup every game. Carlo will.
As this series wears on, don’t be surprised to see Carlo get into some scraps with the Islanders’ big forwards — Brock Nelson and Matt Martin, specifically. The Bruins are optimistic about Lauzon’s return at some point in the series, but we likely won’t see Miller suit up in this round. As long as they are out, Carlo is Boston’s most physical defenseman, and he will need to play as such.
Before the Taylor Hall trade, the Islanders dominated the Bruins in the regular season. After the trade deadline, David Krejci’s line came to life and led Boston to three straight wins over the Isles to close out the season series on a high note. They’ve been on fire ever since, almost rivaling Bergeron’s line in offensive production.
While Hall and Craig Smith made their marks in the first round against the Capitals, Krejci was relatively quiet, with just two assists in five games. He certainly wasn’t bad — he had a plus-2 rating and won 53.2 percent of his faceoffs — but he didn’t show the same aggression in the o-zone that he did in the final weeks of the regular season.
That will have to change against the Islanders. They are getting goals from every line right now — especially the Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey line — and the Bruins will have to counter with their own balanced scoring attack. This attack starts with Krejci, who is the clear offensive leader after the Perfection Line. When Krejci is buzzing, the Bruins’ offense follows suit.
The Czech veteran played his best hockey in the Bruins’ recent runs to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, 2013 and 2019, and he must play an equally important role against the Islanders if the Bruins want to advance to the next round. Expect him to show a little more initiative with the puck.
Although Curtis Lazar bumped him out of his center spot on the fourth line, this is still Sean Kuraly’s line. He has the most playoff experience, and more importantly, the most playoff scoring experience. A fourth-liner always seems to have a hero moment in any deep playoff run, and Kuraly is the obvious candidate for the Bruins.
The Bruins and Islanders went to overtime three times in the regular season, so this series figures to have some close contests and late-game drama. Kuraly possesses the “clutch gene” for these moments, and he will have another chance to show off this gene soon enough. But the Ohio-native’s value to the Bruins goes far beyond his knack for timely scoring.
Kuraly is also a huge part of Boston’s league-best faceoff game and penalty kill. He was exceptional at both in the first round, winning 57 percent of his faceoffs and helping shut down Washington’s elite power play. The Islanders’ top-10 faceoff group will give Kuraly, Bergeron and company a real challenge, and their power play unit has been one of the best in the playoffs so far.
The fact of the matter is that the Islanders are a great all-around team. They will test the Bruins in every facet of the game. This makes do-it-all, bottom-six players like Kuraly all the more important. He must continue to do what he does best, and that includes coming up big in clutch situations.
Expect This Series to Go The Distance
It’s difficult to predict which series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will go to seven games, but this one certainly has that feeling. Both teams thoroughly outplayed their opponents in Round 1, had some spirited bouts in the regular season, and are playing their best hockey at the right time. Nassau Coliseum is at 50 percent capacity, and T.D. Garden is set to operate at “near-full” capacity in the coming games for the Bruins and Celtics, so home ice will definitely be a factor.
The Bruins and Islanders are the last two teams standing in the highly competitive MassMutual East Division, and it would only be fitting that the division title round goes to a Game 7. The series kicks off at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday at T.D. Garden, in front of a near sold-out crowd. This is going to be fun.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.