Islanders Weekly: Defeating Bruins, Advancing to Semifinals

2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Column, Ilya Sorokin, Kyle Palmieri, New York Islanders, Semyon Varlamov

Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.

RelatedLast Week’s Islanders Weekly

The Islanders handled the Boston Bruins in six games to head to their second straight Stanley Cup Semifinal. After tying the series at one game apiece, the Isles fell to the Bruins on Long Island in Game 3 after a game-winner from Brad Marchand. Like they did against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, the Islanders knew the only way to avoid a road Game 7 was to win the next three games, including a Game 5 on the road. They were able to generate the same outcome against the Bruins as they did against the Pens, taking Games 4 and 6 at home while stealing Game 5 from the B’s at TD Garden.

After switching to Semyon Varlamov in goal for Game 2, coach Barry Trotz rode his veteran goaltender for the remainder of the series, as the Isles’ workhorse goalie was able to pick up three straight victories to advance his team to the Stanley Cup Semifinals yet again. Increased production from trade deadline acquisitions Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri coupled with the emergence of Mathew Barzal led the Isles to victory after a troublesome start to the series. New York marches on to face the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning for a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 1983-84 season.

Special Teams Battles

The series with the Bruins had a large emphasis on special teams. The B’s have one of the league’s best power plays, while the Islanders are stronger on the penalty kill and are known to have an inconsistent power play that struggles to get shots to the net. The teams had similar levels of success with special teams during the first few games of the series, but the advantage swung heavily in the Islanders’ favor after a Game 5 that saw them earn four power plays.

New York Islanders Jordan Eberle
New York Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

The Isles’ man-advantage unit was able to convert on three of their four opportunities in Game 5 on the road, bringing a 3-2 series lead to Long Island Wednesday night. Barzal, Palmieri, and Jordan Eberle all converted with the extra man, and were able to carry their momentum into Game 6, where the Islanders didn’t convert on their only power play, but were able to score six goals at even strength. Boston scored on two of their three Game 6 power plays, but was held scoreless at even strength as the Isles took the 6-2 victory and punched their ticket to the semifinal.

Goaltending Switch

Despite not playing poorly, rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin was replaced with Varlamov in Game 2 after allowing four goals in the first game of the series. It turned out to be the spark the Isles needed, as they won that game, as well as three consecutive ones after dropping Game 3, to advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinal for the second straight season. The Isles’ veteran goaltender provided stability at the backend, especially when it felt like Boston was throwing everything on net and New York’s offense couldn’t get anything going.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Varlamov’s best game of the series was Game 5, where, despite taking a commanding 5-2 lead, the Islanders saw the Bruins come storming back and throw everything on net. Their veteran goaltender stood tall, making 40 saves and allowing the Isles to hold on to their lead and have the chance to advance in Game 6 on home ice. He was similarly solid in Game 6, albeit less frequently tested, saving 23 of 25 shots against and being perfect at even strength to backstop a series-clinching victory.

Middle-Six Scoring

While the top line for the Islanders produced more in this series than they did against the Penguins, the team’s best lines were actually their second and third forward units. The lines, led by Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, respectively, were relied on by Trotz in crucial situations and provided offensive sparks when the team needed it most. Former New Jersey Devils Zajac and Palmieri came up large in the series clincher, as each had a goal, including Palmieri’s team-leading seventh postseason tally.

New York’s big trade deadline addition had points in all but one game in this series, and his line that was centered by Pageau had the tall task of managing Boston’s perfection line. While the Bruins’ power play was able to convert on several occasions, the top forward line was held in check by the Isles’ third line for the most part at even strength. With the second line driving offense like they did last postseason, and the revived third line doing a little bit of everything, New York’s forward depth makes them a formidable opponent for the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Top Performers

  • Kyle Palmieri: 3 goals, 1 assist
  • Mathew Barzal: 3 goals, 2 assists
  • Brock Nelson: 3 goals

The Week Ahead

  • Game 1 at Tampa Bay Lightning: TBA


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