When the Boston Bruins look in the mirror, they see the New York Islanders.
“We’re playing ourselves a little bit,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said of the Bruins’ second-round opponent in the playoffs. “They have a lot of our attributes: They want to be structured, they want to play with discipline, they have good goaltending.”
The same goes for the Islanders, who will open their best-of-7 series in Boston on Saturday night. The Bruins may have a slight edge with home-ice advantage and a little more firepower, but players and coaches on either side expect the East Division series to be a grind.
“We’re straight-line hockey teams,” Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “It’s two similar hockey teams, and it’s going to be a battle.”
Half of these teams’ regular-season meetings were one-goal games, which fits the tightness of playoff hockey, particularly this year. Three of Boston’s and four of New York’s first-round games were also decided by a goal.
As Islanders coach Barry Trotz likes to say, these teams are “comfortable being uncomfortable” in close games and figure on more of them coming up soon.
“We saw that in the season series: a lot of tight games except maybe one or two,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said. “It was really tight-checking, structured hockey and I think that’s what we’re expecting.”
Boston’s net belongs to Tuukka Rask, who stopped 159 of 169 shots against Washington in the first round. The 2014 Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goaltender is looking to backstop the Bruins to a third Cup final in six years.
Rookie Ilya Sorokin made his NHL playoff debut in Game 1 of the first round against Pittsburgh because veteran Semyon Varlamov was injured. Sorokin got the net back in Game 4 with the Islanders trailing in the series and was their best player against the Penguins.
“They had to go their Plan B and he won them all four games, so it doesn’t matter who they put there: They’re going to get good goaltending,” Cassidy said. “If you’re going to advance, it’s very difficult to do if your goaltender is not one of your best players. That’s what happened with us clearly in the Washington series, happened for them against Pittsburgh, so that’s the other part of their game that’s rock solid right now.”
LINE ‘EM UP
The Bruins’ “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak will be the Islanders’ focus. It might be New York’s fourth line of Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas that Boston has to worry about.
Bruins defenseman Mike Reilly believes the key is moving the puck quick against those big forwards.
“They’re not going to be able to be faster than the puck,” Reilly said. “If we can just try to keep the puck going that, I think we’ll be successful. Obviously those guys are as physical as any line in the league, so we’re definitely prepared for that.”
The Islanders understand they have to be on their toes against Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak, who are averaging a goal a game just at even strength.
“That top line can do a little bit of everything,” Mayfield said. “The biggest thing for me is they’re never out of a play, so I’m never out of a play. You can’t take a second off.”
TALE OF TWO STREAKS
The Islanders won the first five meetings and the Bruins the final three this season. No one quite knows what to make of that, other than the Bruins adding Reilly and forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar at the trade deadline and being healthier later in the year.
“I don’t want to judge us on the start of the year against them,” Cassidy said. “I don’t know how they’re judging themselves against us from the end of the year when we had more success. To me, it’s a fresh start for both teams. Both teams are playing well.”
Islanders star Mathew Barzal has 14 points in 17 career games against Boston — seven points in eight games this season. What is it about the Bruins that brings out the best in Barzal?
“When you play the Boston Bruins, you know that you have to bring your highest compete level, or else you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb out there,” he said. “Maybe that’s it. I think it’s just an intense game, and I know I’ve got to be on top of my game or else you’re going to stick out and it’s not going to be good.”
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