So arguably the most loaded division in the NHL comes down to the Islanders and Bruins. The last time these teams squared off in the playoffs was back in 1982-83, when the Islanders defeated Boston in the conference final on the way to their fourth straight Stanley Cup.
That was then, this is now. But these are two teams that have made a run at winning it all in the last three seasons, with the Isles coming off a conference final appearance in 2019-20 and the Bruins falling just short of the Cup in 2018-19, with a seven-game finals loss to the Blues. Both squads look nearly the same as they did during those respective runs, which means it’s sure to be a series that highlights how hungry each team is.
The Islanders went 5-3 against the Bruins during the regular season, winning the first five matchups and outscoring Boston 18-8. But in the final three meetings, when the Islanders were on a downward spiral, the Bruins rolled to three wins, outscoring the Isles 10-3. Three of the eight games went to overtime, including a shootout.
The Post’s Mollie Walker takes a look at how the teams matchup.
The Islanders have maintained their faith in both of their goalies, veteran Semyon Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin. While Varlamov was considered the No. 1 throughout the regular season, in which he had a career year and led the league with seven shutouts, the 33-year-old netminder was rocky in his two starts in the first-round series against the Penguins. Sorokin started the series-opening win while Varlamov was held out after sustaining an injury in the regular-season finale. He returned for Games 2 and 3, both losses, before turning things over to Sorokin. The 25-year-old stole a couple games — including a 48-save masterpiece in Game 5 — but the team could go back to the more experienced Varlamov.
After opting out of the playoffs last season because of a family emergency, Tuukka Rask has been the Bruins’ No. 1 netminder. After a series-opening overtime loss to the Capitals, Rask backstopped four wins and posted a 1.81 goals-against average through the first round. Jeremy Swayman, who arrived in the NHL ahead of schedule when Jaroslav Halak contracted COVID-19 in April, has assumed the role as backup after a head-turning 7-3 record and 1.50 GAA in 10 regular-season starts.
The Bruins were right there two spots below the Islanders for the lowest goals-against average during the regular season, posting a 2.39 mark with the Isles at 2.23. Boston also owned the second-lowest average in shots allowed per game at 27.1.
However, the Islanders still allowed fewer goals this season. They also have a more balanced and experienced defensive core led by Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, who shut down the Penguins’ top line in the first round. Boston is a bit banged up on the back end, with Jeremy Lauzon, Kevan Miller and Jakub Zboril coming off injuries and Steven Kampfer ruled out. Charlie McAvoy is a Norris-caliber defenseman, and is coming off a stellar regular season.
Much like the Penguins, the Bruins are loaded up front. There’s the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who combined for three goals and 14 high-danger chances in the first-round, per Natural Stat Trick. Not only are they dynamic, but Marchand plays a pesky game that frustrates opponents. Oh, and the Bruins acquired Taylor Hall at the trade deadline to flank their second line. He posted 14 points in 16 games after he arrived in Boston.
The Islanders are a balanced scoring team, with a bulk of their offensive contributions coming from the middle six in the first round. But the top line of Leo Komarov, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle will need to come alive if the Isles want to counter the Bruins’ offensive prowess.
The Bruins had a top-10 power play during the regular season, and it carried over into the playoffs. Boston recorded five man-advantage goals in five games, while averaging nearly four power-play opportunities per game. Boston also allowed the third-fewest power-play goals during the regular season, just three more than the Isles, and tied for the most shorthanded goals with nine.
Having a man-advantage hasn’t always bode well for the Isles, but their penalty kill is one of the better ones in the league. The Penguins, however, scored three power-play goals in the first round, while the Isles went 3-for-16 with the man-advantage.
As the reigning Jack Adams Award winner, Bruce Cassidy has led Boston to immense success over his five-year tenure, including a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2018-19.
However, Barry Trotz has the Islanders buying into his philosophies more than ever before. They are competing as one unit, one mind and one collective force. He also has a Cup to his credit with the Capitals in 2018.
The Bruins may be playing some of their best hockey, but the Isles have proven they have the ability to dominate Boston. These are two experienced squads, however, when the Islanders are at their best, it is the exact style of hockey that can shut down the Bruins.
Islanders in six