5 Takeaways: New York Islanders Reach SemifinalsJun 10, 2021
By Sasha Kandrach / New York Islanders
For the second-straight year, the New York Islanders have reached the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They clinched their second round series over the Boston Bruins with a decisive 6-2 win in Game 6 on Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
It was a solid team win from the Islanders who received balanced scoring up and down the lineup with two goals from Brock Nelson, plus tallies from Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri and two empty-net goals from Cal Clutterbuck and Ryan Pulock.
"We recognized this was a special moment for this building and guys understood the magnitude of this game," Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz said.
Defensively, the Islanders put on a clinic at even-strength to close out the series, with both of Boston's goals coming from Brad Marchand on the power play. Semyon Varlamov was solid as he made 23 saves on 25 shots in the win.
"[It was] definitely a total team effort," Josh Bailey, who posted two assists. "I think you need everyone to beat a team like that. I thought from Varlamov right on out, I thought everyone in the lineup was contributing and playing the way we needed to play to get the win. We're certainly happy to move on. We feel like we have some unfinished business."
Here are five takeaways from the Islanders' series-clinching win over Boston:
For the only the second time in the series, the Islanders scored the opening goal, but the first time they scored first and won. They came out flying and with a 'ready to take care of business' mindset that served them well and benefitted from playing with a lead on Zajac's icebreaker.
The Islanders took advantage of a fatigued Bruins group, who had been out for an entire shift and two icings. Upon winning an offensive zone faceoff, Jean-Gabriel Pageau circulated the puck low-to-high for Noah Dobson’s long-range look. While Rask denied Dobson's attempt, Zajac buried the rebound for his first goal of the playoffs to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
Boston evened it up late in the period to make it a 1-1 game heading into the first intermission on Marchand's power-play strike.
Anthony Beauvillier took the initial tripping penalty at 14:13 and just as the Islanders penalty kill was almost out of the clear when Casey Cizikas tripped up Taylor Hall and joined Beauvillier in the box for 14 seconds.
Boston didn't convert on the brief five-on-three, but made the Islanders pay on Cizikas' penalty. David Pastrnak whipped a pass across the slot to set up Marchand for a blistering one-timer from the circle.
The Islanders poured on the offense with a three-goal second period effort to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the final frame. Nelson notched two of the goals back-to-back, while Palmieri padded the score. All three goals occurred as the Islanders were patient and capitalized on defensive errors by the Bruins.
In the third period, Marchand cut Boston's lead down 4-2 with his second power-play goal of the game as Matt Martin served a tripping minor. The winger wrapped in a rebound from Varlamov's initial pad save on David Krejci's shot at 5:38 to score his fifth goal of the series.
As the Islanders began to lock down the remainder of the game, outshooting Boston 5-3 in the final period and 29-25 in total, Clutterbuck and Pulock furthered the damage as they each tallied two empty-net goals in the waning minute of play to deliver the Islanders' their final 6-2 win.
With the game tied, Nelson rose to the occasion with a two-goal second-period performance that restored the lead to the Islanders and drew the crowd out of their seats.
On his first goal, Nelson sticked-checked Bruins blueliner Matt Grzelcyk in the neutral zone to spring himself for a breakaway. He showcased his composure with a backhand-to-forehand move and slipped the puck past Rask's glove at 5:20 to double the Islanders' lead 2-1.
Leading up to Nelson's second tally, his linemate Josh Bailey foresaw Rask's attempt to play the puck - providing a deja vu moment from his Game 5 OT winner against Pittsburgh - and was able to get the puck on net. Nelson beat an out-of-position Rask to extend the Islanders' lead 3-1 at 12:39 as the Coliseum roared in applause.
It was a tremendous effort for Nelson, who's stepped up for the Islanders all season long in big moments and a nice nod to him and his family after he and his wife welcomed his third child earlier this week.
"Brock just had [his third] child the other day," Trotz said "His wife had a baby at 12:30 in the afternoon in Game 4 and he played that night with no sleep. He came to Boston, got in late [for Game 5] and played that game. I think today you saw him fresh and happy to have a new child with his wife. He settled in and played a Brock Nelson game."
'TRADE DEADLINE' MAKES AN IMPACT
The Islanders' line of Palmieri, Pageau and Zajac, all of which were acquired by the Islanders ahead of the last two NHL Trade Deadlines, were a force in Game 6 as they combined for four points (2G, 2A).
In addition to Zajac's opening goal, Palmieri padded the Islanders lead to 4-1 late in the second period. The Islanders once again took advantage of Rask's poor rebound control as he gave up a loose puck and his defenseman failed to clear it. Instead, Palmieri jammed it in for his team-leading seventh goal of the postseason and extended his goal streak to three games.
It was well-deserved for the feisty winger who had struck iron on a buzzer-beater shot ahead of the first intermission.
"It says a lot about them not only as hockey players, but as people," Trotz said of Plamieri and Zajac. "They assimilated very well, they have great personalities, they have great professionalism. I think they're having a ball. They missed the playoffs, they missed the intensity. They're a part of it right now and they're a big part of it."
While Pageau didn't light the lamp, the hard-nosed center assisted on Zajac's goal and on Cluttebuck's empty-netter.
VARLAMOV 'SOLID' IN CLNCHER
Trotz has rolled with Varlamov in net since Game 2 in this series and the goaltender backstopped the Islanders out of the second round as he made 23 saves in Game 6. With his fourth win of the series, the veteran improved his record to 4-3 in the postseason.
While his team was strong defensively, especially at even-strength, Varlamov was locked in from the get go and made timely saves when he needed to.
After an unsuccessful power play from the Islanders early in the second period and when the score was still 1-1, he denied a three-on-two rush as Marchand threaded a pass to Patrice Bergeron, but Varlmaov made the stop on the one-timer in what could have been a turning point in the game.
He also made a stick save on Charlie Coyle early in the third period.
"It was huge, [Bergeron] had a good look to," Trotz said. "That's huge. How many times do you see [a team] get a big save and then, go down and score. [Varlamov] was solid for us he wasn't as worked over as he was in Boston [in Game 5], but he was solid."
ATMOSPHERE LIKE NONE OTHER
There's no place like the Coliseum.
Game 6 was electric and 'deafening' according to Trotz. It was another special moment for the Islanders faithful to take in their team clinching a playoff series on home ice. From the opening puck drop all the way until the final whistle, the sold-out storied Coliseum was filled to the brink with animated, passionate fans all donning the Blue and Orange.
"The place was rockin' tonight," Nelson said. "The fans were feeding us energy, the team played great. It was one of those nights, Barry touched on it after the game, that we'll always remember moments like that. It was a big game, a big team effort from everybody. Just feels good having a full Coliseum there behind you and playing for them."
There's wasn't a dull - or quiet - moment in the game as chants were exchanged from both sides of the rink and the cheering never ceased.
After closing out Boston, the Islanders advanced to the semifinals for the second-straight year. They'll take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Final, where the Lightning ended the series in six games and went on to win the 2020 Stanley Cup.
With a second place regular-season finish in the Central Division, Tampa will receive home ice over the Islanders.