The New York Islanders topped the Florida Panthers in their NHL Qualifying Round series, 3-1, and in convincing fashion. They had a rare offensive surge, scoring 13 goals in the four-game series, while characteristically only allowing seven goals against.
Despite losing Johnny Boychuk in Game 1 to injury, Andy Greene stepped in to keep the blue line balanced. With a healthy top defensive pair in Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, it was expected for the Islanders to be sound on the backend.
What wasn’t expected was the breakout performance from the Islanders’ second line of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey, the “Killer B’s.” Other players did their part in the scoring department, but the second line was at the forefront of the offense.
Beauvillier is at the top of the Islanders’ stat sheet, with five points in four games in the qualifying round. In Game 1, his power-play goal in the second period (a rocket of a one-timer) proved to be the game-winner, giving the Islanders an early advantage in the series.
Beauvillier’s shoot-first mentality proved to be effective during the series, giving him an 18.8 shooting percentage, three goals and two assists; one was a shot that banked off the leg of Jordan Eberle and beat Panthers goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, to help the Islanders take Game 2.
Not only has Beauvillier been on a run in the offensive end, but he has been a force on the ice every shift. “His relentless forecheck and tireless backchecking have stood out, making life difficult for Florida while also providing a huge boost for his teammates,” said Rob Taub of Empire Sports Media.
The timing of the 23-year-old’s boost in performance couldn’t have been better. Beauvillier had a career season, tallying 39 points in 68 games while skating mostly in the top-six. However, his status in the top-six was anything but solidified. Despite the uptick in his point total, the French-Canadian forward disappeared in spurts, leaving in doubt is reliability as a top-six player.
Those questions can be laid to rest, as long as the Beauvillier we saw in the qualifying round continues from here on out. He’s found another gear and is oozing with confidence. Maybe he’s just taking advice from the inspirational message written on his stick every game: “Have Fun 😝”.
Whatever it is that has Beauvillier playing this way, he will need to keep it up if the Islanders want to advance deep into the playoffs.
For a long time, the narrative surrounding Bailey was that he was a product of John Tavares. Now, two seasons after the departure of the former captain, Bailey has proven that he can get it done on his own.
He is hardly the shooter on the second line, and you can see that on the scoresheet, as he tallied four assists in the series. However, he completes a perfect combination with Nelson and Beauvillier, as they ranked first and fourth (respectively) in goals scored on the team this season.
Much of Bailey’s success in the qualifying round has come on the power play. Of his four assists, three were on the power play. He fed both Beauvillier and Nelson a power-play goal on the second unit, skating with his even-strength linemates.
Trailing only Beauvillier for the team lead in points, Bailey is off to a better start than in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he tallied six points in eight games. It should be no surprise that the veteran winger is finding success feeding pucks that find twine, as before the shortened 2019-20 season (where he still tallied 29 assists), he had three consecutive seasons with 40-plus assists.
At a point-per-game pace, Bailey will look continue feeding Beauvillier to help maintain the Islanders’ new scoring presence.
Rounding out the second line, Brock Nelson has been one of the most consistent forwards since his sophomore season in 2014-15. Sure, “Brocktober” has been known to disappear in spurts, but in the past few seasons, he has been consistent year-round.
Nelson was just short of his first 30-goal season, with 26 goals and 14 games left to play when the NHL paused. In five of his seven seasons in the NHL, he has scored 20-plus goals and 40-plus points. In his last two seasons, he reached the 50-point plateau and his numbers increased each year.
If you can think back — so, so far back — to the Islanders’ biggest regular-season moments this season, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson were in a lot of them. Five of the eight Isles’ OT winners came from those two, and Nelson had a couple of five-on-six tying goals in the final weeks,(from ‘Seven takeaways from Islanders’ Game 1 win over Panthers,’ The Athletic, 08/01/2020).
Nelson brought the same skills to the play-in round, helping establish the second line as a force on the ice. His first goal came in Game 3 when the Islanders were down by two goals in the third period. The late-period goal came at 18:33, giving the Islanders about a minute and a half to try to tie the game and send it to overtime for a series sweep.
Despite that they came up short, Nelson’s effort carried into Game 4, as he assisted the game’s first goal, and later tacked on an insurance goal to give the Islanders a two-goal lead in the second period.
The second line didn’t spend much time in the defensive zone, as they were puck-possession machines throughout the play-in round. Over the four-game series, the trio combined for a 59.68 Corsi for percentage (CF% of 55 or higher is considered elite, and anything below 45 is considered below average). In Game 3, they averaged a CF% of 80. The “Killer B’s” combined for 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists), and recorded at least one point in each game.
“Trotz also preserved the chemistry of the line as he used them in one of the Isles two power-play units where they produced half of their combined points (2G, 4A) on the man advantage, ” said Sasha Kandrach of NHL.com.
The trio of Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey played together for all 68 games of the shortened 2019-20 NHL season. Reuniting them for the Return to Play was a no-brainer, as each player finished in the top-five of either goals, assists or points for the Islanders.
The Islanders move on to face the Washington Capitals in the first round of the NHL Playoffs, and the second line will have to keep keep putting on a show.
“All four lines had some good moments and were generally solid, especially after the Panthers got on the board 23 seconds into the third to make it a one-goal game. But Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey spent very little time in the defensive zone and generated the best chances on the counterattack, particularly a two-on-one in the final minute of the second that could have really put this one away” said Arthur Staple of The Athletic.
Whatever it was that had the “Killer B’s” buzzing, the Islanders hope it can continue. Before the qualifying round, some wondered whether the Islanders would be able to bounce back after a skid before the hiatus in March. After the exhibition against the New York Rangers, Beauvillier, Nelson, Bailey and the Islanders proved to be anything but a mixed bag.
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