The New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 last night to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the Boston Bruins. The back-and-forth tilt was a thriller, especially if you were in the Nassau Coliseum stands where the fans were so loud they may have broken a sound barrier.
The Islanders went down 1-0 early in the first period, on the first shot of the game. However, a quick response by Anthony Beauvillier saw the game tied, and the Barn was rockin’.
Depending on the night, the Islanders either score a plethora of goals, or they’ll keep scoring to a minimum on both sides, and there’s no in-between, at least not since Barry Trotz became head coach. In the 2020 Playoffs, the Islanders’ second line – Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey – drove the offense, and in 2021, the trio is back at it again.
Second Line? How About First Line?
Consider the Islanders’ lineup on paper. Leo Komarov (while Anders Lee is out with injury), Mathew Barzal, and Jordan Eberle are penciled in as the Isles’ “first line.” However, by the end of most games this postseason, including Game 6, Beauvillier, Nelson, and Bailey led all forwards in ice time (TOI). In last night’s series winner, Bailey led all Islanders forwards with 20:54 TOI, followed by Nelson and then Beauvillier. So, you tell me, who’s really the Islanders’ first line? Bailey tallied two assists in Game 6, one of which led to the goal-of-the-game, a beautiful tic-tac-toe play that ended in Nelson scoring one of his two goals.
Speaking of Nelson, we’ll start calling him “Big-Game Brock”; his first goal helped the Isles tie the game for the third time in the second period, and his second helped pad the lead to secure the series victory. Nelson’s shooting percentage is a whopping 25%, with three goals on 12 shots in six games.
“Whenever you can kind of get that momentum and ride it, that’s huge,” Nelson said. “There’s going to be ups and downs, but you can get the crowd up and going, get the adrenaline flowing… that’s huge.”
But the most important player on Nelson’s line has been Beauvillier. The French-Canadian has been the driving force of the offense, playing to the Trotz system, hounding opponents on the forecheck, winning puck battles, and pushing play to the offensive zone while creating scoring opportunities. In big games, Beauvillier finds another level and goes on an absolute heater. In six games, he leads the team in points (three goals, four assists) and is part of a four-way tie (Nelson, Bailey, Kyle Palmieri) for the team lead in goals. The “Killer B’s” combined for eight points in the Game 6 victory.
“We just found a way to get it done,” Beauvillier said. “We stuck with it and we’re looking forward to the next round” (from, ‘Islanders eliminate Penguins in Game 6 at raucous Nassau Coliseum, advance to play Bruins,’ Newsday, 05/26/2021).
Beauvillier has cashed in several times off the rush in the playoffs. He opened the scoring for the Islanders with a beautiful backhand goal (glove side, of course) on Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. It’s on sequences like this that Beauvillier shines. His ability to read a play, his quick thinking, silky hands, and finish allow him to gain entry to the offensive zone and contribute to a scoring opportunity whether he’s dishing or scoring. He’ll even pull out the occasional Barzal-esque deke to shake a defender and put the puck in the back of the net.
With the help of great goaltending from Ilya Sorokin and phenomenal play by defensemen Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, the Islanders contained Sidney Crosby and sent Pittsburgh packing. Led by what should be considered the Islanders’ first line, the offense came to life in Game 6, and it will have to continue against a much more competitive Bruins team. Tuuka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, and Jeremy Swayman are all significant upgrades to what the Penguins had in net in the first round.
If Barzal and the first line can find some offense and consistency, the Islanders are going to be one of the more dangerous teams left in the playoffs with their ability to roll four lines and score on any given shift. But, until Barzal breaks out in the second round – he was limited to three assists against the Penguins – Beauvillier, Nelson, and Bailey should be considered the team’s first line.
Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers authors James Nichols and Jon Zella. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts!