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BARZILLA: Islanders Mathew Barzal Becoming a Force to be Reckoned with in Playoffs

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Mathew Barzal

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Mathew Barzal walked out of the runway to the New York Islanders dressing and onto the ice with a smile from ear to ear. The 24-year-old emphatically shouted “Let’s Go” and “Our House” as he skated around the ice after being named the game’s first star on Saturday.

Barzal had plenty to be ecstatic about at that point. Moments earlier he had scored the go-ahead goal to help lead the Islanders to a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins and even the series at 2-2, in a game that he was a constant presence in.

[Click here for complete Stanley Cup Playoff coverage of the New York Islanders]

Game 3 and now Game 4 have been the best that Barzal has played in the postseason, as the Islanders’ most skilled offensive weapon has played with an increasing sense of confidence. That was exemplified on Saturday night when Barzal finished the game with two points and a hand in New York’s two most important goals.

“I thought he was competing, fighting for his inches, he made some plays,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We had a huge penalty kill on that challenge and then his line came out and they were pretty determined. That penalty kill gave us a boost and then when we scored right away, that really got us going in the right direction. I liked Mat’s game, he was dangerous all night.”

The buildup to the Islanders stars big breakouts the last two games had been a long time coming. Barzal hadn’t been as explosive during the postseason, but he has also been taking the brunt of the attention when he has been on the ice.

Boston has especially set their sights on the 24-year-old, who was even speared in the groin By David Krejci in the second period.

“It’s the playoffs. As much as I love to produce every night, it’s so tight out there and it just doesn’t come easy,” Barzal said. “Just more so when it’s not coming offensively, just making sure I’m not on the ice for any goals against… just playing sound hockey. A lot of shifts are just 50-50 and you have to grind it out… That’s what it comes down to, battling for the boys.”

And Mathew Barzal has done that during the postseason.

If it hadn’t been for the effort by Barzal with the puck, the Islanders wouldn’t have drawn a delayed penalty and Kyle Palmieri would not have tied the game up in the second period. Barzal’s next level allowed him to shake his man along the wall, draw a call and then feed Palmieri right in front for the goal.

Then of course there was the hand-eye coordination on his game-winning goal to bat the puck out of the air and past Tuukka Rask.

“He’s battling through everything. He’s our top guy and you know guys are going to take runs at him,” Casey Cizikas said. “They’re going to try to finish him and he keeps pushing forward. There’s no give in that kid and you can see that tonight. He keeps attacking, keeps creating offense and making plays. I thought not just offensively, I thought he was good in our own zone as well.

“He battled hard, he was in the right spots and you get rewarded when you play like that.”

Since the Islanders First-Round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Trotz has talked about the maturity that Barzal has had in the playoffs. That he wasn’t getting down on himself or frustrated by his lack of goals as he would have in the past.

For Mathew Barzal, that was not something that had been weighing on his mind.

“It’s obviously nice anytime you get on the board and help your team. I think you guys want to make it out to be like the player is feeling it if they’re not scoring,” Barzal said. “Throughout the whole playoffs I’ve been pretty happy with my compete level and we’ve been winning games. It’s like if the points aren’t there and we’re winning games, I’m OK with that. This is the playoffs. It’s not going to be the same guy every night.

“The last two games I know I had to step up and this has been a heavy series. … Just trying to do what I can to help this team win.”

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