If there was as good a time as any for Mathew Barzal to break out of his shell in the playoffs, round two against the Boston Bruins would be it.
The Islanders star and most offensively gifted player had been somewhat quiet through their First Round series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the six games against Pittsburgh, Barzal had three points — all assists which came in Game 2 and Game 3 — but appeared as though he had been gaining some confidence in the final games of the series.
Now with Boston on deck, Barzal needs to bring that confidence to the Second Round if the Islanders are going to have a good chance against a talented opponent. And Barzal has been able to do that over the course of his career against Boston.
The recently turned 24-year-old has made it a habit out of turning up his game when it came to playing Boston. Related or not, Boston passed up on drafting Mathew Barzal three times during the 2015 NHL Draft allowing the Islanders to select him at 16th overall.
In 17 career games against Boston, Barzal has 14 points (five goals, nine assists), which included three goals against them this season. Barzal scored what would become the go-ahead goal in a 4-2 win over Boston at the Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 13.
He finished the regular season with seven points (three goals, four assists) in the eight games New York faced Boston.
“I wouldn’t say there is any specific reason,” Barzal responded when asked by NYI Hockey Now about the reason for his success against Boston. “If I had to pinpoint anything I think it’s just maybe 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. Maybe that’s it, but it’s just an intense game and I know I have to be on top of my game or else you’re going to stick out, and it’s not going to be good.”
While the Islanders had had a bit of an offensive explosion in the final three games of their series with Pittsburgh, Boston will present a much tougher challenge, especially with a veteran netminder like Tuukka Rask guarding the net. The Islanders were able to get to Tristan Jarry in the First Round much easier than they will against Rask.
“Against Boston, he has pretty good number,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think he rises to the challenge and they have some pretty good players that play you hard. I think he’s up for that challenge.”
That’s why Barzal’s offensive contributions become that much more imperative.
The good news is that Trotz has seen steady improvement by the forward during the First Round. Mathew Barzal had several scoring chances in Game 6.
“I think he’s learned the emotional side of the playoffs and that it’s not going to be easy,” Trotz said. “What you might be able to do in the regular season you sometimes can’t do against your opponent in the playoffs. He’s in a better place emotionally and therefore he can breakout for us. He’s a maturing player, he just turned 24 the other day, and there’s been a lot of growth. Sometimes it doesn’t show as much on the ice, but the other parts.
“The understanding that it’s not going to be the perfect every day, you’re not going to be able to get five points tonight, but you can still contribute in different ways. He’s learned that for us.”
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