Islanders’ heavyweight bouts with Bruins offering glimpse of playoffs

NHL: Boston Bruins at New York Islanders
The Islanders took a high-intensity game against the Boston Bruins in a shootout, 2-1, on Tuesday.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders are enjoying one of their most successful runs in franchise history against the Boston Bruins, increasing their current win streak over their temporary division rivals to four this season after a 2-1 shootout victory on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum. 

It’s only the third time in Islanders franchise history, in 176 total games against the Bruins, that the Islanders have taken four or more consecutive games from them.

They’ve outscored them 14-5 this season — though the major disparity is fueled by a 7-2 shellacking the Islanders put on Boston two weeks ago — and their latest two points had them entering Wednesday two points ahead of the second-place Washington Capitals for top spot in the Eastern Division while the Bruins sank down to fourth.

In the NHL’s geographically-driven, COVID-fueled divisions, the top four teams in each division make the playoffs where the winner of each grouping goes to the conference final.

With half a season to go, the Islanders seem to already realize that any postseason road to Stanley Cup contention will likely have to go through Boston — even if those sentiments aren’t exactly uttered. 

If the season ended today, these two teams would play each other in the Eastern Division semifinals.

“Every time we match up against them, it’s pretty tight,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “Last game [that 7-2 win] we separated ourselves a bit in the third. Every time, it’s a tough game. They’re tough, they’re physical, they like to play on the forecheck.

“We like being in those games, those playoff-type games. We’re comfortable there and that’s how it’s going to be.”

The Islanders still have four games remaining against the Bruins this season, all in Boston, where they’ll continue to gain reconnaissance on a team that is as close to a mirror image as head coach Barry Trotz’s men.

“Those are two evenly matched teams that play similar styles in a lot of ways,” Trotz said following Tuesday’s win, which featured plenty of physicality and chippiness. 

“They’re a hard team to play against,” forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau added. “They play a good defensive game. When we get our chances, we really have to capitalize on them.” 

Becoming just the third person in NHL history to coach 1,700 games — a mark he reached Tuesday — Trotz has helped make the Islanders the NHL’s hottest team right now. They’ve won six straight games, are on a nine-game point streak, and a 14-game home point streak dating back to last season; tied for fifth-longest in franchise history. 

All the while, the Islanders are attempting to reach the heights that the Bruins have eclipsed over the last decade. 

“In a lot of ways, the Bruins are the gold standard, especially in the East,” Trotz said last month. “You have a chance to play Boston, a very good team, and win… it’s just a big mess of teams that are very equal in terms of talent and the standings. This can be a battle right to the end so any points we can get, we’ll take.”


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