The Islanders could not have welcomed back their old friend, Jaroslav Halak, in any more of a rude way.
A five-goal outburst from Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle, Jean-Gabriel Pageau (shorthanded), Anders Lee, and Oliver Wahlstrom in the third period turned Thursday night’s bout at Nassau Coliseum into a rout as the Islanders pounded the Boston Bruins 7-2.
“In a lot of ways, the Bruins are the gold standard, especially in the East,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s a big win because it’s something we want to stay in the pack [of the East Division].
“You… have a chance to play Boston and 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.”
The blowout was the seventh time ever that the Islanders put up at least seven goals on the Bruins and the first since an 8-4 victory in 2003.
“Tie game going into the third against arguably the best team in the league is a good test for us,” Barzal, who had two points on the night and was one of the seven-different Islanders’ goal-scorers, said. “I thought we really rose to the forefront tonight.”
It was as unceremonious a return as possible for Halak, who spent three seasons with the team from 2015-2018. He made 30 saves in his first start at Nassau Coliseum since Game 6 win in the 2015 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals.
New York’s outburst allowed Semyon Varlamov to coast to his ninth win of the season, stopping 34 of 36 shots.
The Islanders shook off a wretched start to get out of the first period with a lead.
Just 2:14 after Nick Ritchie put the Bruins on the board 1:02 into the game, defenseman Adam Pelech’s pinch paid off as he slotted in his first goal of the season at Halak’s right post.
At the 12:39 mark, Nick Leddy fed Mathew Barzal through on a break down the left wing where he sniped his seventh goal of the season over Halak’s glove. It was his fourth career goal against the Bruins in 12 career games. He’s only scored more against the Flyers (7), Rangers (5), and Maple Leafs (5).
The Bruins found an equalizer in the second period when Craig Smith’s centering pass intended for Jack Studnicka rang off the stick of Matt Martin and floated past Varlamov 11:36 into the frame.
Between the second and third periods, the Islanders announced that fourth-line winger Cal Clutterbuck would not return due to an undisclosed injury, prompting Trotz to double-shift the third-line center Pageau to Clutterbuck’s right-wing spot.
“He is so useful and I liked his bite and snarl and jump tonight,” Trotz said of Pageau. “I can use him in so many different areas… It’s a good fit having that luxury of having Pager to play in multiple lines.”
No update was available on Clutterbuck’s injury following the game.
Beauvillier’s goal put the Islanders up 5:41 into the third period, stealing the puck from Trent Frederic right in front of Boston’s net after he picked up a save off Halak’s pads that popped up from the young winger’s initial shot. A simple stick lift and a low backhand did the trick for Beauvillier for his first regular-season goal since Feb. 17, 2020.
“Love seeing him smile and he loves scoring so whenever he gets one… that’s definitely a big boost for the bench,” Barzal said of his teammate.
Eberle followed up Beauvillier’s goal five minutes later by keeping a 2-on-1 break with Mathew Barzal, coming down the right-wing, and roofing his chance over Halak — who in a fit of rage broke his goalie stick on his post and threw the shaft over the boards into the empty seats of Nassau Coliseum.
Pageau’s short-handed goal came less than two minutes later, getting a breakaway chance off Boston’s ineptness at the Islanders’ blue line and lifting one over a sprawled-out Halak.
Lee’s team-leading ninth goal of the season came with 5:16 to go as he stuffed home a rebound, which was just how Oliver Wahlstrom nabbed his second goal of the year 1:49 later to cap the Islanders’ most affluent offensive night of the season.
The win pulled the Islanders up into third place in the East Division with 23, one point behind the Bruins and Capitals.
“We’re chasing Boston here and this division is extremely tight… every game is extremely important,” Lee said. “We still have work to do but any time you can close the gap a bit… it’s a good evening.”