The New York Islanders won Game 6 with a 6-2 victory to win three consecutive games to defeat the Boston Bruins in the second round. The Islanders winning this series mirrored the first-round victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins, splitting one of the first two games on the road and making the right adjustments to completely control the final three games with great play from the entire roster. The player grades reflect a team that could adjust and defeat a Bruins roster that looked like a better one for the majority of the regular season and many predicted to advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinal.
Mathew Barzal A+
Barzal finally found the scoring touch that the Islanders hoped to see from him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After failing to find the back of the net the entirety of the First Round series against the Penguins and struggling in the first two games of the matchup against the Bruins, it appeared that the Islanders were going to have to rely on their depth to carry them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Barzal finally poked a goal behind Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask in a 2-1 Game 3 defeat and became one of the top skaters for the next three games offensively.
Barzal scored in three consecutive games for the Islanders and led a revitalized top line that was able to generate offense against the Bruins, highlighted by a Game 4 performance where he was responsible for both goals the team scored in the 2-1 victory. As a result, the Islanders were able to finally rely on Barzal along with the rest of the line to find open shots on the net, particularly with the 24-year-old scorer creating scoring chances with his speed in the offensive zone.
Additionally, the top-line scorer was able to continue to find open skaters in the offensive zone, resulting in three assists and allow the power play to continue to be an effective unit for the team. This series might have been the one where the national audience finally got to see the talent that the 24-year-old forward possesses and why he is regarded as one of the game’s best young skaters.
Kyle Palmieri A+
There were plenty of doubts about the trade deadline acquisitions of both Palmieri and Travis Zajac as the two former Devils struggled to help the offense and couldn’t find any lines that would help with the skill sets they both possessed. However, after the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s clear that Palmieri was worth acquiring as he has emerged as one of the top scorers for the Islanders and is able to find the back of the net. With a team-leading seven goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including four in the series against the Bruins, the performance of the 30-year-old forward has been able to put the Islanders over the top, especially since the veteran skater can find the back of the net regardless of the shift he’s playing on.
Semyon Varlamov A
Varlamov led the Islanders as the starting goaltender for most of the regular season, with a .929 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average for one of the best seasons in his career. However, after two disappointing performances in the First Round against the Penguins, resulting in the only two losses for the Islanders in the series, it looked like Varlamov wasn’t going to be the primary starter for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Moreover, the younger Ilya Sorokin had a phenomenal First Round in the net to lead the team to all four of their victories and looked poised to carry the team in the upcoming games. After Sorokin struggled in Game One against the Bruins, the 33-year-old goaltender took back the starting position and never looked back.
Varlamov continued to fend off the Bruins’ shots on the net and keep their offense in check, limiting the opponent to only 12 goals in the five starts and helping the Islanders advance to the next round with all four of the team’s victories. Granted, Varlamov would often struggle to start the game, allowing the first goal in four of the five games in the Second Round. Likewise, the Game 3 overtime goal by Brad Marchand was allowed in large part because the 33-year-old goaltender allowed the net to be exposed despite the tough angle. However, the Islanders have to credit the series victory largely to their veteran goaltender, who was being bombarded by shots, 181 to be exact, yet kept the net protected and allowed the Islanders to retain their leads in the majority of their games.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau A
Along with Palmieri, Pageau has proved his value to the team as he has provided the constant attack on the later line shift that the Islanders have needed to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pageau has led the team in assists in the playoffs with 10 in the first two rounds, including four in series against the Bruins, but goals in both Game 2 and Game 4 were able to catapult the Islanders into the next round with each of the goals being pivotal in one-score games. Additionally, the 28-year-old center has made a great impact on the defensive end of the ice, patrolling the center of the defensive zone and creating turnovers, helping limit a potent Bruins offense throughout the series.
Brock Nelson A
Nelson continues to find the back of the net for the Islanders. As the team leader in goals for the regular season, with 18 in the 56-game season, Nelson was going to be heavily relied upon to carry the later line and help boost the scoring depth for the team, especially against a Bruins defense that was going to eliminate plenty of opportunities with their top pairing of Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. He has not disappointed, with six goals in the first two rounds, including three in the Bruins series, as the 29-year-old forward continues to crash to the net and find scoring opportunities for the entire shift.
Game 6 was a great way for Nelson to cap off the Second Round, as he found the back of the net twice in the 6-2 victory. Both goals came as a result of his ability to pressure the Bruins in the offensive zone and either create a turnover or be the beneficiary of a turnover that was created to find a puck near the net. The two-goal performance was his second of the playoffs, with two goals in the Game 6 victory over the Penguins as well, and allows the Islanders to continue to overwhelm any defense with every line being capable of piling on the goals.
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock A
The Islanders needed their defense to step up if they were going to win the series against the Bruins. The entire unit was able to limit the Bruins’ offense, but the play from Pelech and Pulock was remarkable as they led the defensive unit. The duo created turnovers in the neutral zone and cut-off angles as their opponent kept attempting to move the puck through the blue lines. Moreover, they were able to cut off passing lanes and create turnovers in the defensive zone against skaters like Marchand and David Pastrnak, two of the best scorers in the NHL.
In addition to the great play defensively, the pairing established a much-needed presence in the offensive zone. While Pelech and Pulock had only a goal and assist each in the series against the Bruins, the duo was able to keep the puck in the offensive zone and maintain possession for the Islanders’ offense while also preventing the Bruins from establishing a scoring presence. A prime example was when Pelech was able to catch the puck out of mid-air in Game 5 and instantly pass the puck to an open skater for an Islander goal, ultimately leading to a 5-4 victory.
Noah Dobson A-
Dobson has greatly exceeded the expectations with the season he had and the playoffs have been no different. He stepped up in the series against the Bruins on both ends of the ice, eliminating the opponents’ offense to create offense on the other end. Speaking of creating offense, the 21-year-old defenseman was a force from the point in the recent series, firing shots on the net and setting up easy shots for the Islanders on the ice. In addition, the young defenseman distributed five assists against the Bruins and with seven in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he leads the defensive unit in the category.
Josh Bailey A-
Josh Bailey struggled to find the back of the net the entire season, scoring only eight goals and struggling to find a line to thrive on. However, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been a completely different story as the 31-year-old veteran has scored five goals and has added six assists to his shift, including a game-winner in overtime of Game 5 of the First Round, which gave the Islanders the momentum in the series. Bailey has found a rhythm alongside Brock Nelson as they have continued to find passing lanes and scoring opportunities to overwhelm defenses. In the series against the Bruins, Bailey scored twice, including a pivotal goal in the second period of Game 5 to help swing the momentum to the Islanders in the game and the series.
Anthony Beauvillier B+
On the same line as Nelson and Bailey, Beauvillier has continued to create scoring opportunities and find open shots on the shift that is clicking at just the right time. The First Round saw him find the back of the net as he scored three goals and added four assists as the young forward took advantage of his speed on the wing.
While Beauvillier only scores once in the series against the Bruins, a redirected shots from the point in Game 1, his presence was still a major factor for the Islanders’ offense. He created open shots in the later line and created open ice. The 24-year-old forward earned three assists in the series with some quick passes, including two in Game 5 that allowed the Islanders to take the series lead with the 5-4 win.
Jordan Eberle B
Eberle has been a scoring presence for the Islanders throughout this season, scoring 16 goals in the regular season. In the First Round, Eberle struggled along with a top line that was failing to generate any scoring opportunities, but as the shift started to find its rhythm against the Bruins, the 31-year-old forward started to generate pucks to the net. The only goal the top-line forward scored was on the power play due to great puck movement that led to Barzal finding him open by the net but was able to find open skaters as he distributed four assists in the series to help boost the Islanders top line.
Scott Mayfield – Nick Leddy B
The defensive pairing of Mayfield and Leddy is known as the pairing that often creates goals on the offensive end of the ice, with Leddy racking up the points as the team leader in assists in the regular season with 28. However, in the series against the Bruins, the defensive duo failed to find the back of the net but continued to keep the puck in the offensive zone and constantly create scoring chances from the point. The duo combined for four assists in the series, with Leddy adding three of them, but the ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone allowed the Islanders to limit the Bruins offense for the majority of the series.
In addition to the offensive play, the duo stepped up immensely on the defensive end of the ice. Both Mayfield and Leddy were able to limit the Bruins’ top line, which caused the most damage in the series while eliminating the backend of their opponent’s offense. The duo oftentimes forced the Bruins forwards to play on the boards and create turnovers as a result.
Andy Greene B
Throughout the season, the 38-year-old defenseman has shown that he can provide great plays on the defensive end of the ice while also providing a veteran experience for the younger defenseman in Dobson, who is often on the same shift as him. Greene might not have the same scoring presence from the point as the rest of the unit, but he is still providing turnovers and disciplined play on the defensive end of the ice. He has become an integral part of the Islanders’ defense as he adds depth to the unit, which became crucial in the recent series as they limited their opponent’s offense regardless of the pairing that happened to be on the ice.
Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck B-
The “Identity Line” of Casey Cizikas, Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin has continued to do what they do best. This line isn’t known for their offense; rather, they are a great defensive shift. Cizikas and Clutterbuck, throughout the Second Round series, were able to play tough on the forecheck to create turnovers in the offensive end of the ice and apply pressure to the Bruins with the puck. Likewise, the duo created turnovers in the neutral zone and on the defensive end of the ice, with hard hits on the boards and the backcheck being a major factor.
In addition to the continued defensive play, this line was able to find scoring opportunities against the Bruins to help catapult the Islanders to the next round. Cizikas found the back of the net twice in the series, including an overtime game-winner in Game 2 with a top-shelf shot past Tuukka Rask. Clutterbuck, meanwhile, only scored on an empty net in Game 6 but was able to generate offense and provide a scoring presence, both of which will be pivotal for the Islanders to win their Semifinal matchup.
Matt Martin C+
Like Cizikas and Clutterbuck, Martin has struggled on the offensive end of the ice for the entire season, with the Stanley Cup Playoff being no exception. Martin scored five goals and added only six assist in the regular season and has yet to record a point in the Islanders playoffs games thus far. The 31-year-old forward ultimately makes his impact defensively, imposing his will with hard hits that can create turnovers and retain possession for the Islanders’ offense.
Leo Komarov C
One of the greater questions in the Islanders line combinations is Komarov playing on the top line alongside Barzal and Eberle. The 34-year-old forward struggled throughout the regular season and has only contributed three assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, prompting head coach Barry Trotz to limit his ice time and slide different skaters into his spot in power-play situations or even when the team truly needs to find a goal.
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Komarov has emerged in the playoffs as one of the better defensive forwards on the Islanders with a great forecheck to help create turnover in the offensive zone. Still, the inability to create offensively is an underlying concern for a team hoping to win the Stanley Cup.
Ilya Sorokin C-
Sorokin had an incredible First Round against the Penguins, starting all four of the games the Islanders won and eliminated a potent offense, allowing only nine goals in the series. The First Round for the young goaltender was highlighted by a Game 5 performance where Sorokin saved 48 of the 50 shots he faced in the 3-2 overtime victory. It looked like the 25-year-old goaltender would remain the starter for the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and fuel the run to the Final.
Unfortunately, the Second Round was one to forget for Sorokin as the Bruins attacked him early and often. In the first game of the series, the Bruins fired 39 shots on the net and scored four goals in the 5-2 victory. The poor start forced the Islanders to start Varlamov for the next game and Sorokin didn’t see the ice for the rest of the series. It’s unclear whether the Islanders will turn to their young goaltender moving forward, but it will be a tough decision considering the team runs a risk of another bad performance that can likely cost them a series.
Travis Zajac C-
Zajac continues to struggle for the Islanders, failing to generate offense for the later lines and find open shots for the team. The Islanders acquired the 35-year-old skater at the trade deadline from the Devils but have only received two goals and two assists since he joined the team. Zajac’s one goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs came at a great time as he found the puck near the net and scored the first goal in Game 6 as part of a 6-2 victory, but otherwise, the veteran forward has been a non-factor for a team that needs the entire roster to step up, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What the Islanders Need to Finally Beat the Lightning
The Islanders will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Semifinal, the team that defeated them in six games in the 2019-20 Eastern Conference Final and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Lightning was overwhelming on both ends of the ice and was in control on most of the series, with excellent puck movement and turnovers being a constant. This Islanders team looks ready to compete with any team in the NHL, but they will have to limit the power play in the next round, with their opponent scoring 15 power-play goals in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Likewise, the offense will have to methodically attack Andrei Vasileskiy, a world-class goaltender that is hard to beat but can become susceptible to lower shots and second-chance opportunities. In the end, the upcoming series should be one to remember, with both teams being well-coached and possessing more than enough talent.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.