As they entered Game 5 of their Eastern Conference final series Tuesday night trailing the best-of-7 series, 3-1, and facing elimination from the playoffs, much of the discussion surrounding the Islanders’ predicament had to do with the lack of production from their first line of Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.
But while Islanders coach Barry Trotz had pointed the finger at his top line after the 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4, before Game 5 he made the point that it wasn’t just the first line that needed to pick it up. The way the Isles are constructed, he said, they need production from the third and fourth lines, too.
"We have to have contributions from the bottom six,’’ Trotz said in his pregame Zoom news conference Tuesday. "When you get the contributions from the bottom six, it seems like a bonus for a lot of teams. For us, it’s not really a bonus, it’s part of our DNA. It’s something that’s sort of expected.’’
One bottom six forward the Islanders hoped to get more from against the Lightning was Derick Brassard, who entered Tuesday with two goals and six assists in 16 games in the postseason, but no points in three games against the Lightning.
Brassard, who turns 33 next Tuesday, signed a one-year, $1.2 million free agent contract with the Islanders late last summer. He had been an important and popular player for the Rangers before they traded him in the summer of 2016 for Mika Zibanejad. After that, he began to bounce around, and demand for his services as a free agent last summer was not high. The Islanders took a chance on him, thinking he might be a good third-line center.
But he was up and down all season until the team traded for Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the February deadline and made him the third-line center and shifted Brassard to left wing on Pageau’s line. Brassard seemed to settle in there, and finished with 10 goals and 22 assists in 66 games before the NHL paused its season in March due to the coronavirus. In the playoffs, Brassard has mostly played well, despite being in and out of the lineup.
When the season ends he will be an unrestricted free agent and the odds are against him being back next season, given the fact the Islanders have some key restricted free agents to sign (beginning with Barzal), and the salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million.
However, as they fought Tuesday to keep their season alive, the Islanders needed Brassard, who had a reputation for scoring big goals at big times in big games when he was with the Rangers.
With Casey Cizikas injured and out of the rest of the playoffs, Trotz moved Pageau into Cizikas’ spot in between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck in Games 3 and 4. In Game 4, Brassard centered a fourth line between Leo Komarov and Ross Johnston.
"It’s the next man up, and I’m trying to help them as much as I can in the middle,’’ said Brassard, a healthy scratch in Game 2. "I’m just going to try to play well with my linemates… try to chip in offensively, maybe, and do my job.’’