A Brilliant Look at the Brilliant Islanders-Bruins Series

Islanders and Bruins set for Game 6 tonight. Kadri suspension upheld. Net turnaround in Vegas. A new NHL Award?

Our roving reporter, George Falkowski has been studying the Islanders and Bruins. Here's his take on it going into tonight's Game Six in Nassau:

Former Sabres and Rangers head coach Ted Sator once told me how too many teams build with forwards first, when it should be the other way around. You start from the crease to the defense and THEN the forwards, he said.  His theory was simple: there are too few “money” goalies, very few dominating defensemen but there’s always a big pool of forwards to choose from.

Call it the “inverted pyramid” of hockey priorities.

So, what have we seen in the 2021 playoffs?  Tampa Bay is the defending champ. They know how to win postseason games. They have one of the best goalies in the world and a smart, veteran defense led by Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh.  As good as Carolina is and will continue to be, they were not at the fighting weight of the Bolts. Not in these playoffs. Not yet.

The Bruins and Islanders are nearly mirror images of one another. Each features a terrific goalie, tough defense and a combination of star power and grit up front.  The series has played out that way, punch and counterpunch.  The difference in game five was two-fold: first, the Bruins failed to bury early chances that could have put the game away.

Second, there’s a difference between playing rough/tough Bruins hockey and taking stupid penalties trying to prove you belong in a black-and-gold sweater. There was too much of the latter, and the Islanders made them pay.

I still see the series going seven.  Taylor Hall always wanted to see what he could do in the postseason. Here’s his chance.  How about the other “Deadline Deal Former Devil”, Kyle Palmieri?  Both would love nothing more than a shot at the semifinals.  It’s an interesting subplot to see which late-season pickup makes the biggest difference.  

After five games, advantage: Palmieri.

As for the Winnipeg Jets, it seems they woke up and realized they were in the second round and didn’t know how to react.  The extra days off did not work to their advantage.  They came out flat in Game One and before they knew it, the Jets were swept away by Carey Price and Montreal.

As disappointing as it’s been to see the plucky Jets fail to build on their first round sweep of Edmonton, it’s wonderful that Carey Price is getting a long-overdue chance to shine late in the playoffs.  It’s hard to equate the Canadiens and the term “Cinderella” but it could be that Price is Prince Charming for Montreal fans.

Back to Ted Sator, as the field gets whittled to a final four, look at each survivor starting with their goalie, their D and then forwards.  The game may not stress team defense and goaltending during the regular season, but ain’t it amazing how that formula seems to work every year in the playoffs?  


Stan’s Java Jive

HEADLINE: DON'T MESS WITH THE CHAMPS

THE JIVE: Conventional wisdom in most betting circles is that it's not a good idea to wager against the Champs. It's certainly true so far in the playoffs. And if you don't believe me, ask the Carolina Hurricanes. Coach Rod Brind'Amour had a club with designs on the Final round. Now the Canes can try tennis. The Bolts 2-0 clincher last night proves a couple of other points. 

1. Goaltending wins series. Andre Vasilevskly is among the NHL's top puck-stoppers and Carolina's Alex Nedeljkovic is hoping to be one some day. Ergo: Tampa wins in goal. 2. The Champs' depth beats all. Goal-scorers last night were ever-reliable Braden Point and the never-heard-of Ross Colton of Robinsville, New Jersey, no less! (For more on The Champs, see Larry Hirsch's story below.)


HEADLINE: ITʼS OVER...FINALLY

THE JIVE: If you listen to Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper in his post-game press conference, you got the impression he has been through the ringer and more. Cooper admitted that, “in all my time in the NHL as a head coach, the series with Florida and now Carolina have been the toughest first and second rounds series.”

If both the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricane continue to add and improve their line-ups, continue to mature in their talent, perform as a team, they will

win more games. Hopefully, after the emotional scars disappear, each of the teams will look at the films again and again. They will see what they have to commit to in order to win a Stanley Cup. Both teams went through exciting, intense, hard hitting, emotionally filled series with the the Cup Champions. In the end it was great world class goaltending, an awesome power play, and as defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said after the game, “it was a total team effort”.

The Lightning look like a team focused on two things. 1.) Repeating, 2.) The Team. Boltʼs have several elite NHL players. Yet the formula and execution of the coachʼs plan requires a serious commitment to team play. When they play as a team, they rely on each other, and Coach Cooper makes sure itʼs done that way. They may lose

a game or two during one series. But their overall attitude is, play for the moment, never too high, and never too low, stay disciplined with the game plan.

Finally, Captain Steve Stamkos said it best, “every player in our dressing room are champions. Itʼs our job to play like champions and keep the Stanley Cup in Tampa.”


HEADLINE: A GRADE-A TOURNEY OUT WEST

THE JIVE: When it comes to an instant analysis of the Colorado-Vegas series, the bottom line now is the same as it was when the season began:

these evenly-matched teams could go seven games. Top to bottom, they match up well and last night's event -- which went into overtime with Vegas on top thanks to Mark Stone's sudden-death semi-breakaway goal-- merely underlines the point. I still consider it a toss-up and will be delighted if it does go the route.


HEADLINE: NAZEM KADRI SUSPENSION UPHELD

THE JIVE: The NHL has decided against trimming Kadri's eight game suspension he received for a high hit against Justin Faulk in game two of the first round. Coby Maeir, my Editor in Chief, tells me "His physical presence and offensive ability has been missed in the last four games of the Avalanche's second round series against Vegas, with the Golden Knights having dominated the last eight periods after being losing to Colorado 7-1 in game one." Kadri will return to this series only if there is a game seven.


HEADLINE: TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY IN VEGAS

THE JIVE: There was a time not long ago when Marc-Andre Fleury was as valuable to the Golden Knights as snake eyes at the crap table. As a matter of fact, two years ago, the smiling French-Canadian was this close to being shown the door. Sort of "Thank you very much -- and good night." The general staff was quite willing to hang up the "Bye, Bye Birdie" sign when, of all people, the one who counts, the owner, stepped in and waved a "No-No!" finger at the high command. The Knights did a turnabout and decided to keep the Flower. 

What a wise move that was, wasn't it? Highly-touted Robin Lehner was gifted with the big bucks and the sign over Rob's locker read something like "I'm the No. 1." And, yes, he was for a while but the old fella who had won Cups in Pittsburgh refused to dance with Father Time. Which is another way of saying The Comeback Kid of this spring isn't a kid anymore but Marc-Andre Fleury sure is some kind of goaltender.


HEADLINE: SOMETHING THAT IS NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN -- BUT

THE JIVE: I like the idea that the NHL doles out awards aplenty. Why not?

Just about every conceivable prize is presented to all categories of the league.

Except one.

Among the most important protagonists in any game, any season, any playoff are the referees. That being the case how about a Hart Trophy kind of silverware -- call it the Bill Chadwick Award -- for the MVP ref and top linesman? Yeah, gimme a reason why not? Of course, the question then would be who'd vote on this and that's not an easy one. Not at all.

Could be a panel of officiating supervisors. No? 

Could be general managers. No?

Could be the zebras themselves.

Whatever the case there's absolutely no denying the officials importance to The Game. Ergo: Give the best a few prizes.


TRIVIA QUESTION: Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall earned the nickname "Mister Goalie." Which netminder was nicknamed "Mister Zero?"  (Answer below.)


CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "Wayne Gretzky is too skinny to be a superstar."

-- A dozen World Hockey Association players before they faced The Great One.


TRIVIA ANSWER:

Frankie Brimsek of the Bruins was nicknamed Mister Zero.