Updated: May 28, 2021
After the New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games on Wednesday night 5-3, we now have our Eastern Division final match-upset. The third-seeded Boston Bruins, a team who underperformed this season by some standards, now have home-ice advantage just as the state of Massachusetts allows nearly full stadiums. The Bruins, who beat the Washington Capitals in 5 games, look more than ready to take on an always competitive Isles team. Let's take a closer look into some of the more important keys of this series.
1. The Perfection Line
For what feels to be the first time in a while, the Bruin’s marque line is supposed to be doing. Carrying the load. A combined 8 goals and 13 points in the first series against the caps, with 7 points coming in the final 2 games. It is already well-known league wide how talented this line of three is; their talent seems to show even more, not 5 on 5. Not only are they considered a top power-play line NHL-wide, they also have one of the best short-handed scores of this generation, Brad Marchand. And now, with solid second-line scoring depth, expect this line to be even more explosive than round 1.
2. A Matchup Of The Minds
Bruce Cassidy vs Barry Trotz. 2020’s Coach of the Year against 2019’s Coach of the Year. These are two of the best coaches across the NHL, and they get to go head to head against one another for the first time in their careers. Regular season wise Coach Cassidy has a record of 8-6-4 head to head against Coach Trotz, who has a record of 10-6-2. Since the trade deadline, the Bruins have won all 3 matchups against this Islanders team, with the final game going to overtime with a winner from Taylor Hall.
3. A Young Defensive Core Gets Tested
Right around the halfway point in game 4 against the Capitals, Kevan Miller was hit just entering the Cap’s zone when Dmitry Orlov left his feet to make a high hit on Miller. Miller then hit his head on the ice while falling, resulting in him being kept overnight in a local hospital. This injury left the bruins with only 5 defensemen the rest of the game, with the oldest, Mike Reilly, at only 27. Reilly has played less than 20 games for the Bruins so far this season. Resulting from the injury, the Bruins activated Jarred Tinordi, who is older than Reilly by 2 years, has been on the roster longer than Reilly, but has fewer games played. The most experienced D-man the Bruins have is Charlie McAvoy, their star 23-year-old defenseman who already in his career has played in 59 career playoff games. In 5 games so far this season, McAvoy has 5 helpers, good enough for second on the team. If the Bruins are going to win this series, it all comes down to whether this defensive unit can step up when they need to.
4. Trade Deadline Acquisitions On Full Display
Two of the more active franchises this year, the Bruins and the Islanders, both made a few moves this year to bolster their cores for this playoff push and beyond. Roughly a week before the deadline, the Islanders made the first splash landing Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils for forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst, a 1st round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a 4th round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The Islanders then added their veteran presence by acquiring Dman Brayden Coburn for a 7th in the 2022 NHL Draft from the Ottawa Senators. The Bruins waited a bit longer than the Islanders did to make their moves, but it was all worth it by getting the guy most people picked as the best talent available at the deadline, Taylor Hall. Hall, as well as Curtis Lazar, was traded from the Buffalo Sabers for forward Anders Bjork and a 2nd round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Hall was teammates with Palmieri and Zajac from 2016-2020 on the Devils before he signed with the Sabers. The Bruins also added to their defense by adding Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators for a 3rd round selection in 2022. Which mid-season pick up is gonna help their team the most? Is it the Isles with their influx of depth, or the Bs with their highly talented winger?
5. Who Will Be The King Of The Crease
Semyon Varlamov Has carried the majority of the load for the Islanders so far this season. But recently, young 25 year old Ilya Sorokin, who started games 4, 5, and 6, look to hold on to the reins coming into round 2. So far this playoff run, Sorokin has posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.95 GAA, and a .943 save percentage. Really good numbers from a young goaltender still on the rise. Across the ice will stand heavily experienced goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask has a 55-43 record in the playoffs, just recently getting the franchise record set by Gerry Cheevers over 40 years ago. So far, through this year’s playoff run, Rask has a record of 4-1 with a GAA of 1.81 and a save percentage of .941. This is Rask’s 8th playoff run of his career, and with rumors swirling about his possible retirement, this might just be the last shot this 34-year-old goaltender has.