The New York Islanders and Boston Bruins have put together one of the more entertaining series of the postseason. Two of the league’s best defensive teams are involved in quite the slugfest, exchanging heavy physical play with plenty of offense. With the Islanders leading the series heading into Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum, we take a look at the storylines as the series shifts to Long Island.
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – the Barn – is getting quite the send-off from the Islanders and their fans. You couldn’t have written a better ending if you tried. Even with its days numbered, the Coliseum still has plenty to give, so long as the Islanders can keep it alive.
The Islanders have won two straight and have a chance to close out their second series at home this postseason. It won’t be an easy win, even with the Long Island faithful on their side. The Bruins are a battle-tested playoff team with plenty left in the tank. It’ll take a full, 60-minute effort from the Islanders from top to bottom to move on to their second straight Eastern Conference Final.
“I think the biggest thing is that you know — players know — any team that has experience knows how hard it is to get that fourth [win] and you have to bring that desperation too,” Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, said in his press availability following Game 5. “We’ll be desperate [Wednesday]. They’ll be desperate. To get the fourth one is always the toughest. I think guys understand they have to leave their best game out there. Hopefully, we get the result.”
Aside from the raucous crowd, the Islanders also get the benefit of the last change. The ability to get J.G. Pageau on the ice against the Perfection Line, which consists of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand, is a huge advantage. During Game 5, we saw Trotz switch Brock Nelson and Pageau. Not only did this pay off in the defensive end, but Pageau set up Josh Bailey for an important goal to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead in the game.
New York Saints
The Saints – err Islanders – caught the ire of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy following Game 5. Cassidy had this to say about the officiating after the Bruins Game 5 loss.
“I think what happens, and this is my take on it, is we’re playing a team that has very respected management, coaching staff,” Cassidy said. “They won a Stanley Cup. But I think they sell a narrative over there that it’s more like the New York Saints, not the New York Islanders. They play hard, they play the right way, but I feel we play the same way. The exact calls that are getting called on us do not get called on them, and I don’t know why. These are very good officials. They’re at this point in the season for a reason. … Maybe we need to sell them more, flop, but that’s not us. You just hope they see them. The same calls go against us. It’s not like I’m sitting there going, ‘Every call against us sucks.’ That’s not true.From, “NHL fines Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy $25,000 for criticizing officials,” NBC Sports, 6/8/2021
Not only was Cassidy fined $25,000 for these comments, but he and the Bruins also have to deal with Islander fans at the Coliseum reminding him of the incident all night long. The Islanders are no saints, but they were the 29th-least penalized team out of 31 during the regular reason. This is largely irrelevant in the playoffs, as not only is the hockey different, but the officiating becomes consistently inconsistent – a problem and a discussion for another time – but speaks to the issue Cassidy seems to have with the referees in this series. And he isn’t wrong. It’s been a wild ride watching the referees decide which calls they’ll make. However, there’s some solace knowing they’re making mistakes for both teams. The difference so far has been the Islanders’ ability to strike on the man advantage.
The Islanders once again fell behind early in Game 5, a common theme for this team throughout the playoffs. But, they managed to dig out of the deficit – another more positive theme during this postseason run.
“Obviously we probably didn’t deserve to have the game at 1-1,” Mathew Barzal said following Game 5. “They came out pressing – they probably could have had three or four in the first period, so (we needed) just to get that tied 1-1, take a deep breath, recoup for the second, and obviously we did.”
While the offense deserves the credit for mounting the comeback, Semyon Varlamov, and the goaltending in general, continues to be a big reason the Islanders have been able to stay in games. Despite allowing 40 or more shots in all but one game this series, the Islanders have managed to hold off the Bruins’ deadly offense, however top-heavy it may be.
After he was pulled in Game 5 due to an injury concern, questions are swirling around Bruins starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask. It didn’t help he allowed 4 goals on 16 shots through two periods, but if the Bruins want to feel confident heading into Game 6, they’ll need Rask in net.
“Game feels good. Health is OK,” Rask said in an appearance on The Greg Hill Show ahead of the series. “I’ve been playing, so that’s OK. It’s not as good as I’d want it to be, but obviously I’ve been playing and practicing. I’m out there. That’s all that matters.”
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The Islanders have shown the Bruins what they can do to their backup goalies, former Islander Jaroslav Halak, and youngster, Jeremy Swayman, during the regular reason, so Boston will cross their fingers Rask is ready for the next game.
The Islanders continue their playoff run Wednesday night on Long Island and, with a win, they’ll face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight season. Everything is pointing to this game being one for the ages as both teams turn up the desperation levels in front of what promises to be a wild crowd at the Coliseum. Not much separates these teams, but these storylines could play a difference.
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Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.