The New York Islanders officially advanced to the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal after they defeated the Florida Panthers 5-1 in Game 4 of the Qualifying Round. This is the first time the Islanders have won a postseason series in back-to-back seasons since 1984 and 1985. This series proved the Islanders are better than their skid right before The Pause, with balanced production, solid goaltending, and strong defensive efforts.
If you can believe it, the Islanders scored 13 goals in 4 games with balanced production from throughout the lineup. Each game had a different line to help propel the Islanders’ offense. One of the surprises to start the series was the success of the third line, made up of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derick Brassard, and Tom Kuhnhackl. A black hole for much of the last two seasons, the addition of Pageau has solidified a weak point and helped give the team momentum in the series. He also helped give the Islanders some additional possession time, winning well over 50% of his face-off draws.
The rest of the series, the second line of Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Anthony Beauvillier absolutely took over, combining for 12 points in four games. However, one of those players stood out most of all: Beauvillier.
Beauvillier led the Islanders in points with five in the series, scoring two goals in Game 4 and skating well in all situations. If he can continue his great play and the rest of the offense can rally around him, they’ll be in great shape moving into the first round.
On top of the offense waking up, the defense played a huge role in the Islanders’ success in the Panthers’ end. Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews each had four points in the series, something the Islanders will need moving forward as they get to take on one of the top-four seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Defense Stands Tall
Despite a shaky penalty kill that allowed 4 goals on 11 opportunities, the Islanders only allowed seven total goals in four games against the Panthers. Even with Johnny Boychuk going down in Game 2, the Islanders’ defense stood tall and shut down a fairly potent Panthers’ offense. A huge addition to the Islanders’ defense was Adam Pelech, who was injured in January and was set to miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.
One of the bigger stories was the Islanders’ ability to block shots. In Game 4 alone, the Islanders blocked 31 shots, nearly double the amount of any other game this series. This is a good sign as their next opponent will be much better than the Panthers and will require tight defense from the start. The insertion of Andy Greene, in for the injured Boychuk, also went smoothly. The 37-year-old defender was solid throughout the series and provided much-needed experience.
In my series preview, I mentioned how important it was for the Islanders’ goaltending to stand tall against the Panthers. Varlamov has historically played very well in the playoffs, and he proved experience is important by looking calm, cool, and collected all series long. His .932 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average were enormous for a team that normally doesn’t score a ton of goals.
What shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that Varlamov only allowed three even-strength goals in four games. So, if the Islanders can stay out of the box, which may be hard considering how the officials have been calling many of these games, they could really have a lot of success moving forward. All in all, outside of his mistake in Game 3, Varlamov hardly looked out of position and got a lot of help from his defense throughout the series. (from ‘Semyon Varlamov admits to ‘mistake’ that cost Islanders sweep,’ New York Post, 08/05/2020)
The Islanders will have their hands full with whoever their first-round matchup is, which won’t be known until this Sunday. The scenarios, as outlined by Islanders’ statistician, Eric Hornick, are still very much up in the air as of Friday afternoon. No matter who it is, if the Islanders can build on their performance in the Qualifying Round, they’ll compete well with the next opponent.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.