Both in First Round prediction outcomes and in trying (and failing) to deliver predictions for each First Round series ahead of time.
The short excuse is that the overlap of the 2020-21 regular season and the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs made it difficult to finish compiling stats, writing game recaps and subsequently writing previews for each series that hadn’t already started.
Then it’s a matter of catching up.
Plus there’s a few other projects being worked on right now that you’ll hopefully get to see soon.
Granted, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this it’s because 1) you’re somehow an oddly dedicated fan of my random musings, 2) you’ve accidentally stumbled upon this blog or 3) you’re a potential employer trying to get a read on if this guy is actually desirable.
Anyway, the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs is mostly over as only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens have yet to sort out who will be taking on the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round of Scotia NHL North Division action.
For now, let’s just keep it simple with the MassMutual NHL East Division on the docket for Saturday and the Discover NHL Central Division and Honda NHL West Division on the calendar for Sunday, then we’ll go from there.
(3) Boston Bruins (33-16-7, 73 points) vs (4) New York Islanders (32-17-7, 71 points)
Boston: 56 games played, .652 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.
N.Y. Islanders: 56 games played, .634 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.
The Boston Bruins eliminated the Washington Capitals in five games (4-1) in the First Round and are poised to be in command of home ice advantage in their Second Round series matchup with the New York Islanders by virtue of being the higher seed as both MassMutual NHL East Division First Round matchups technically resulted in upset victories by the “underdogs”.
Sure, Boston has had a bit of recent playoff success riding the momentum of their last four consecutive seasons with at least one playoff series victory and New York improved to 5-1 all time against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Stanley Cup Playoff series, but that’s besides the point.
The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20, having recorded the league’s best regular season record at the time of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, well, officially being declared a pandemic and cutting last year’s regular season short.
They entered 2020-21 as favorites to not only lead their division at season’s end, but contend for the Presidents’ Trophy in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.
That… didn’t pan out, but it might actually be a benefit to the current roster to not be seen as the clear cut favorites on paper.
To remind everyone that didn’t read the First Round preview for Boston, the Bruins were led by Brad Marchand (29-40–69 totals in 53 games played) in the regular season, with Patrice Bergeron (23-25–48 totals in 54 games) and David Pastrnak (20-28–48 totals in 48 games) rounding out the top-three scorers on the team.
Through five games this postseason, the B’s look like they could be on the verge of something special as a plausible last hurrah for their current core with David Krejci and Tuukka Rask set to become unrestricted free agents at season’s end and Father Time™️ eventually going to become a factor and catch up with the ageless wonders that are Bergeron and Marchand.
It’s likely that Rask will be back for another season or two to serve as a mentor for current backup goaltender, Jeremy Swayman, like how Tim Thomas played that role for the franchise’s all-time winningest goaltender in the regular season and playoffs.
Or if you’re from outside the Boston market– think like what Pekka Rinne just did for the last two seasons in Nashville as Juuse Saros gradually took over as the starter for the Predators.
Krejci, on the other hand, has a bit more of a clouded future.
Bruins president, Cam Neely, told reporters earlier in the week that the organization has shelved talks of extensions with Rask and Krejci for after the postseason (a standard for the industry, especially with an expansion draft looming for the Seattle Kraken), but Neely was open to the idea of the two “one team” players spending their entire NHL careers in Boston.
That said, there’s always the possibility for retirement for Krejci or that he might go spend a few seasons in Czech Republic while winding down the twilight of his professional playing days.
None of that is relevant for the here and now, however.
Right now, the Bruins are focused on getting past the Islanders in the Second Round– a team that’s given them a bit of an inconsistent ride to say the least this season.
Boston dropped the first five games against New York, but won the last three meetings between the two clubs in the regular season.
That doesn’t actually say as much as one would think, since the Capitals had more recent success as the season progressed against Boston.
But then again, Washington did lose.
It’s also not like the B’s didn’t get better as the season went on– especially since they added Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly ahead of the trade deadline in April.
Boston has a legitimate top-six forward group and interchangeable components that can get the job done in the bottom-six, as well as a defense that has a mix of youth and experience– sans Kevan Miller for Game 1, at least, as Miller is out with an upper body injury, though Jarred Tinordi did fine for a bottom-pairing role in Game 5 against Washington.
Rask’s save percentage has gone up in each of his first five postseason games so far.
Through five games in the 2021 postseason, Pastrnak leads the team in scoring with six points (two goals, four assists), while bona fide stallion , Charlie McAvoy, has five assists and Bergeron (3-1–4 totals in five games) round out the top-three in postseason production thus far.
In the regular season, Rask led the way in the crease for the B’s with a 15-5-2 record in 24 games (24 starts), a 2.28 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage, as well as a pair of shutouts in that span.
Jaroslav Halak started the season as Boston’s backup, but ended it as the third string netminder with a 9-6-4 record in 19 games (17 starts) for the Bruins with a 2.53 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and two shutouts in 2020-21.
Swayman emerged as Rask and Halak spent time out of the lineup due to injury, as well as an extended stay in COVID protocol for the latter goaltender (perhaps affecting Halak’s performance as a result).
But before Swayman amassed a 7-3-0 record in 10 games (10 starts), as well as a 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts, Dan Vladar made five appearances (all starts) and earned a 2-2-2-1 record to go along with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage.
Don’t let Vladar’s numbers fool you, however, as one desperate start on the second night of a back-to-back against the Capitals sank otherwise decent stats for the projected backup to Swayman someday on Boston’s depth chart.
In the postseason, Rask has put up a 4-1 record in five games with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
So in other words, it’s midseason form for No. 40 for the black and gold.
At the other end of the rink, the Islanders utilized head coach, Barry Trotz’s, patented trap to stupefy Pittsburgh’s potent offense in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while also appearing to not really have to do that much to beat Tristan Jarry in the crease in six games (4-2).
This time we mean it. Nassau Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is on its last legs.
Next season, the Isles will be opening up their new home at UBS Arena in Elmont, New York– making the “long” trek from Uniondale, New York to their new address.
Both TD Garden and the Coliseum are expected to have near full capacity crowds for the entirety of the series, so if you already couldn’t stand Boston and Long Island enough for some reason, expect the crowds to be as loud and as obnoxious as ever.
That said, we could all use a good laugh and some release from the last year and a half of pain, grief and suffering. Hopefully the cheers and jeers do not veer into the distasteful.
It is, after all, just a game.
Anyway, the Islanders were led by Mathew Barzal (17-28–45 totals in 55 games) this season, while Josh Bailey (8-27–35 totals in 54 games), Brock Nelson (18-15–33 totals in 56 games) and Jordan Eberle (16-17–33 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in team scoring in 2020-21.
In the crease, Semyon Varlamov led the way with a 19-11-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), as well as a 2.04 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and seven shutouts in the regular season.
Ilya Sorokin was the backup netminder for New York and amassed a 13-6-3 record in 22 games (21 starts) and had a 2.17 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in the process.
Through six postseason games, Anthony Beauvillier (3-4–7 totals) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (1-6–7 totals) are tied for the team lead in playoff scoring, while Bailey and Nelson rank tied for third on the roster with six points (three goals, three assists for each player).
Varlamov’s gone 0-2 in two games (two starts) and has a 3.61 goals-against average, as well as a .903 save percentage, while Sorokin has taken over with the hot hands in net– amassing a 4-0 record in four games (four starts) and an equally impressive goal against average (1.95) and save percentage (.943) as Rask’s numbers for Boston thus far in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Isles captain Anders Lee remains out of the lineup with a lower body injury that ended his season after 27 games in 2020-21.
These two teams are meeting for the third time in a series, with the Islanders holding a 2-0 all time record, having defeated the Bruins in five games (4-1) in the 1980 Quarterfinal and in six games (4-2) in the 1983 Wales Conference Final.
Both times that New York defeated Boston, the Isles went on to win the Stanley Cup.
In the 2020-21 regular season, however, the Bruins went 3-3-2 in eight games against New York, while the Islanders went 5-2-1 against Boston.
New York outscored Boston, 21-18, in that span, though the Bruins held the advantage in total shots on goal over the course of their regular season series, 269-216.
Stellar goaltending has been a constant for both teams, outside of the odd, 7-2, win for the Islanders on Feb. 25th against the B’s.
The Bruins have Hall, the Islanders have Kyle Palmieri.
Depth scoring is paramount, especially if New York’s trap can get to Boston’s first line as effective as they were against Pittsburgh’s first line.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, is a dynamic coach, however, while Trotz might continue to go back to the well even if it’s starting to run dry– simply out of the comfort and ease of familiarity.
This series has all the makings of being a long, grueling battle that could see Boston victorious over the Islanders for the first time in the postseason in seven games when all is said and done.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 18th
4-2 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 13th
7-2 NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 25th
2-1 F/SO NYI at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 9th
4-3 F/OT NYI at TD Garden on March 25th
4-1 BOS at TD Garden on April 15th
3-0 BOS at TD Garden on April 16th
3-2 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on May 10th
5/29- Game 1 NYI @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, SN360, TVAS2
5/31- Game 2 NYI @ BOS 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN1, TVAS
Games 3 and 4, as well as 5 through 7 (if necessary) have yet to be announced by the league at the time of this writing.