Are the Islanders having fun yet? Well, yes, now that you mention it . . .
That is exactly what it looked like they were having on Friday as they brushed aside the Panthers, 5-1, to conclude a 3-1 series win in the qualifying round and advance to the more traditional, 16-team NHL playoff tournament.
But just to drive home the point, their best player in the series was seen on the bench with the following message written on the grip of his hockey stick: HAVE FUN.
“Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself a little bit why you’re doing this,” Anthony Beauvillier said after scoring the first two goals in the clincher. “I’ve been writing that on my stick for over six, seven years now . . . It’s just something I do every time.”
At this point, both Beauvillier and teammate Mathew Barzal, seated beside him in Toronto, were smiling, seemingly amused that an old quirk from the former’s junior hockey days suddenly had become a thing in a video news conference.
But this is the playoffs, where everything becomes a thing, and the way Beauvillier is playing he could continue to be a thing against better opponents in later rounds.
To this point, Barzal has been the brighter star between the two men born two weeks apart in 1997 and selected 12 spots apart in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
But Beauvillier seemed from the beginning of the series against the Panthers to be playing at a different speed than his teammates and opponents.
He showed his spunk in a Game 3 loss on Wednesday when he set up a J-G Pageau goal by dumping in the puck during a line change, ignoring said line change to follow the puck into the zone and retake it, then find Pageau.
“You can see how he can affect the game with his speed, shift in and shift out,” his linemate, Brock Nelson, said between Games 3 and 4. “He works extremely hard and plays a quick game. He’s been a catalyst and a guy we can feed off of for energy.”
Beauvillier again was active from the start on Friday and scored the game’s first goal when he backhanded the puck from the goal line at an unworkable angle in the general direction of the net.
It fooled goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and went in between his legs. “I literally was just trying to get it on net and got a good bounce there, and got fortunate on that goal,” he said.
Later in the first period, Barzal got tied up in the corner, ended up remaining on the ice after Beauvillier had arrived on a line change, then found Beauvillier with a lovely pass for a goal past the sprawling Bobrovsky.
“Obviously, Beau’s been shining here for us,” Nelson said later.
Beauvillier tied for the team high with five shots on goal on Friday and finished the series with 16. He had three goals and two assists.
Even though Beauvillier has been a fairly productive player in four NHL seasons, including goals totals of 21, 18 and 18 the past three regular seasons, he has been streaky.
There is no telling whether this streak will continue into next week, but if it does, the Islanders will be a more dangerous challenge for their higher-seeded opponent to be determined.
“I just think right now Beau is just enjoying playing good hockey, and he’s being rewarded for it with production,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s skating on the puck. He’s working. He’s just focused on his job in that moment, and I think that’s the maturity of a good young player in Beau.
“I think earlier, maybe a year or two back, if he wasn’t having any production, he worried too much about that rather than just playing well. [Now] he’s just worried about, ‘I’m just going to go out and play my best,’ and he’s getting rewarded with playing very well.”
Sounds like fun.