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Only the final score flattered the Islanders, for this Round 2, Game 1, 5-2 loss to the Bruins in Boston on Saturday night was surely not representative of the Islanders’ essence.
That’s because even though it took a screened 60-footer from Charlie McAvoy at 6:30 of the third to give the Bruins the victory, Boston was in control from the get-go and never let go.
Only Ilya Sorokin’s brilliance in nets for the Islanders kept this one from being a rout. The Islanders had absolutely no answers at all for Boston’s brilliant Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak unit. The Islanders rarely had possession in the Bruins’ end. Effective forechecking — any forechecking, to be accurate — was even more scarce.
One of the Islanders’ longest puck-possession shifts of the match even turned into Pastrnak’s hat-trick goal at 15:50 of the third period, when the club was caught on a bad change.
The next chance will come Monday, after coach Barry Trotz and his players will have to find some answers on their day off.
The first period came out of someone else’s matchup, for these two teams that generally allow little time and less space to their opponents somehow got caught up in an entertaining track meet that lasted for the full 20 minutes.
Maybe both teams were juiced by the full house of 17,400 fans that represented the largest NHL crowd since the league went into its pandemic pause on March 11, 2020. Maybe it was simply the emotion of the playoffs. But whatever the explanation, there wasn’t so much as a minute of the clubs feeling each other out.
It was 1-1 at the first intermission after Anthony Beauvillier’s power-play redirect from the slot at 11:48 was negated by Pastrnak’s man-advantage snipe from the left at 19:36. The period, however, belonged to Sorokin.
The 25-year-old goaltender, who went 4-0 in the first round against the Penguins with a .943 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average, made a half-dozen glorious first-period saves on Grade-A opportunities from around the net as his team was outshot 18-8. According to NaturalHatTrick, the Bruins had a 19-5 advantage in five-on-five scoring chances.
Sorokin was quick and concise in his movement, squaring himself to Bruins shooters who were able to find seams in the Islanders defensive structure both on plays off down-low possession as well as off the rush.
The Islanders had the edge early with their forecheck and puck-pursuit game and hounded the B’s into multiple errors early. But Boston adjusted and was able to sweep out of its own end with speed and numbers to earn a wide edge in zone time as the period evolved.
Trotz went into a mix-and-match strategy with his defensemen, the Islanders coach splitting the Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock top pair at times in order to have at least one on at all times against the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak unit.
The second period was much like the first, though perhaps not as frenetic. Still, the Bruins carried the play for large chunks of the session, sweeping out of their own end with relative ease and in structure.
The Islanders seemed in a constant scramble mode against the Bergeron unit, which gained the offensive zone with numbers and maintained possession below the hash marks. By the middle of the period, Bergeron had compiled eight shots against Sorokin.
The eighth of those led to a goal. The Boston captain’s right-wing drive was kicked by Sorokin into the left flat, where Pastrnak was waiting to slam it home for a 2-1 lead at 11:08. The goal came against the Pelech-Pulock pair on the back and the Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey unit up front that had a dickens of a time gaining control of the puck.
If Boston’s top line had been dominant, the Islanders’ putative first unit, with Mathew Barzal skating between Leo Komarov and Jordan Eberle, had been moribund through the open 30 minutes, barely able to gain the offensive zone let alone create a scoring chance.
But that changed a minute after Pastrnak’s second goal. Barzal led a charge into the Boston end before he was set up at the left doorstep by Komarov. Barzal was unable to get his stick on the puck, but Eberle retrieved and fed Pelech, whose rocket from the top 50 feet away beat Tuukka Rask’s high glove side to tie the score at 12:34.
The Bruins responded by pushing the pace, but Sorokin made a stop on Taylor Hall at the doorstep with 1:40 remaining to send the teams into the second intermission in a tie game. Again, the Bruins had the shot advantage, this time 12-4 for an overall edge of 30-12.
Boston’s scoring-chance edge mounted to 27-7 following an 8-2 edge in the second. The Bruins also owned a massive edge in five-on-five attempts at 47-15. Again, though, the score was 2-2 entering the third period.
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