The 2020-21 NHL season was one like no other. Gone were the normal four divisions as the NHL broke into four new divisions to limit travel during the coronavirus pandemic. With the new realigned divisions, the Boston Bruins were placed in the MassMutual East Division with seven other clubs, primarily made up of teams from the Metropolitan Division.
One of those teams that the Bruins were placed with was the New York Islanders. One of the more structured teams in the league, coach Barry Trotz’s system is one that can frustrate its opponents and has done so since they hired him in the summer of 2018. During the 56-game regular season, the Bruins found out just how frustrating the system was as they lost five of the eight meetings. Entering their Second-round East Division playoff series against New York, there was going to be no secrets on what the Black and Gold were going to face. A tight-checking, defensive-minded team that relies on their forecheck.
Through the first four games of the best-of-seven series, the Bruins have got another first-hand look at how effective the Islanders forechecking is. Unless the Bruins are able to find a better way to handle it over the final three games, they could be in trouble advancing to the NHL’s semifinals.
Islanders Forecheck Powered Game 4 Win
The Islanders used their forecheck to help them even the series at 2-2 Saturday night as they rallied from a 1-0 second-period deficit for a 4-1 victory. On the first New York goal, Mathew Barzal was in aggressively on the forecheck, collected the puck, and outworked Curtis Lazar along the right wall, working his way behind the Bruins net before setting up Kyle Palmieri in front for a one-timer past Tuukka Rask in the slot. Rask has been very good for Boston the last couple of games limiting the damage that could be worse from the Islanders forcing turnovers in the offensive end.
In the third period and the game still tied 1-1, it was once again Barzal and his linemates in on the forecheck that ultimately led to the game-winning goal with 6:57 left in the game. After pinning the Bruins in their defensive end, the Islanders once again wore down the third line with Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and Nick Ritchie, which led the Barzal’s game-winning goal. The Islanders were on top of the Bruins defense and the Coyle line, which led to a turnover and New York working the puck to the point to Scott Mayfield. His shot was blocked by Coyle, but the puck bounced to Barzal, who batted the puck into the net out of the air for a 2-1 lead.
Bruins Need to Find a Way to Neutralize the Islanders Forecheck
Coming into the series, the Bruins knew that figuring out how to handle the Islanders’ forecheck would go a long way in winning the series. Through four games so far, that has not been the case, especially in the last two games. In Game 3 Thursday night, Barzal tied the game when stuffed home a wrap-around on Rask when the Islanders forecheck led to a gaining possesion and the game-tying goal. Saturday night, it wore down the Bruins, mainly their defensive core and the Coyle line, which had some turnovers and allowed the Islanders scoring chances.
Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron spoke on how the Bruins need to go about handling the Islanders’ forecheck in the rest of the series.
Going into Game 5 tonight at the TD Garden, the Bruins need to make some adjustments to deal with the relentless Islanders forecheck. They need to be stronger on the puck and have better zone exits with their first pass, which is something that has been a problem of late for Boston. They also need to adjust to the Islanders’ speed, which was causing all kinds of problems in Games 3 and 4 in New York.
Bergeron spoke of the different ways the Bruins can adjust to the forecheck, but if the Bruins are not able to figure a better way to attack it in Game 5, they could find themselves down 3-2 heading to New York for Game 6 Wednesday night. If that’s the case, then the Bruins would be looking to extend the series to a Game 7 in an arena where they are 1-5 this season combined in the regular season and playoffs.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.