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May 29—The New York Islanders deserve a lot more credit than most hockey fans are willing to give them.

Yes, their style of play can be described equal parts dull, infuriating, gum-it-up and, most importantly, effective. Save for Matthew Barzal, their star power is essentially nil. They float under the radar — and quite enjoy their place in that space — while bigger market, higher profile clubs get the bon mots thrown their way but don’t have the same lasting power as these Long Island afterthoughts.

So strap and be prepared for a long slog. Because the Boston Bruins, who open up Game 1 of their second round playoff series with the Islanders tonight at TD Garden (8 p.m.), might very well need to go the full seven games against the trap-happy New Yorkers in order to advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals.

The Bruins, who are rightfully favored in this series, possess many of the things that the Islanders do not: a plethora of household names, high visibly in one of the league’s marquee markets, a passionate worldwide following, multiple future Hall of Famers, and plenty of prior postseason success — including a quarter of holdovers from their Stanley Cup title team of a decade ago.

Since dealing for Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly late on April 11, they’ve gone a combined 18-5-1 . Their penalty kill has been outstanding, Tuukka Rask has been lights out in net thus far, and they’re coming off a 6-day layoff after nearly taking out the Washington Capitals in five games, winning the last four in succession.

But there’s a reason that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy referred to the Islanders as serious “Cup contenders” Friday. It’s because they’re used to facing, and slaying, the Eastern Conference’s so-called giants.

They took out the East’s top seed, Pittsburgh, in six games, capturing the last three to close out the series. This comes a little less than a year removed from reaching the conference finals in the Toronto bubble, fighting against the eventual Cup champs from Tampa Bay for Sox games before succumbing.

Like Boston, they play a structured, tight checking system, relying on all six men defensively and their goaltender to not only denying scoring chances, but also help transition the puck up ice to generate offense. Their forecheck is relentless; they’ll no doubt force the Bruins to try to use their speed to negate that.

Their own goaltender, rookie Ilya Sorokin, is a perfect 4-0 in the playoffs with a 1.95 goals against average and .943 save percentage. (Rask, by comparison, is 4-1 with a 1.81 GAA and .941 save pct.).

They have their own version of the Killer B’s in Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, and the aforementioned Barzal — who, of course, was chosen 16th overall in the 2015 Entry Draft, right after Boston chose, in consecutive picks, Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn. I think we all know how that’s worked out thus far.

The New Yorkers have, like Boston, a top 10 penalty kill. Their vastly underrated defense has names like Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock that B’s fans better get used to hearing.

“They have a lot of size, but they’re also very mobile,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said of the Islanders’ defensive corps. “They move the ball well, are good with retrivals but also at making that first pass. All six D seem to be in sync with that system.”

New York has its own key trade deadline acquisition in third line left winger Kyle Palmieri, a proven winner. Their fourth line of thumpers Matt Martin, Casey Czikas and Cal Clutterbuck will be a series-long headache.

While the Bruins fared much better as the regular season wore on against the Islanders, capturing the last three meetings (all on Garden ice), coach Barry Trotz’s club did win each of the first five encounters in 2021 by grinding Boston down, forechecking them relentlessly and pouncing when offensive opportunities arose.

You’ve no doubt heard that the Bruins haven’t faced the Islanders in the playoffs in 38 years, weren’t successful in either of their two previous playoff forays against them (1980 and 1983), and that the Islanders went on to win the Cup both times. That organization is a lo-o-o-o-ng way removed from the glory days of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith, yet that makes them no less formidable in the here and now.

The view from this Level 9 press box seat: the Bruins’ skill and speed should eventually prevail, but it’ll be anything but a smooth ride. Expect lots of bumps and bruises along the way, bad feelings between the two ratcheted up, and no fewer than two instances that’ll require overtime.

Give me the Bruins in seven games, everyone on of which should be a fight to the final whistle. — Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN


Boston Bruins

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Taylor Hall-David Krejci-Craig Smith

Nick Ritchie-Charlie Coyle-Jake DeBrusk

Sean Kuraly-Curtis Lazar-Chris Wagner

Matt Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy

Mike Reilly-Brandon Carlo

Jeremy Lauzon-Connor Clifton

Tuukka Rask

New York Islanders

Leo Komarov-Matthew Barzal-Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey

Kyle Palmieri-J.G. Pageau-Travis Zajac *

Matt Martin-Casey Czikas-Cal Clutterbuck

* Oliver Wahlstrom in for Zajac if healthy

Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock

Nick Leddy-Scott Mayfield

Andy Greene-Noah Dobson

Ilya Sorokin