In the aftermath of Thursday’s overtime loss in Game 3 against the Boston Bruins, Mathew Barzal promised the Islanders wouldn’t spend too much time wallowing in despair about the 2-1 hole they had fallen into in the best-of-seven series, but would be back Saturday, raring to go for Game 4.
"It's tough for about 10 minutes, and then it's the playoffs, so you turn the page,’’ he said. "And we know there's a lot of good things tonight to build off… We’ve been in the situation before, against Pitt, so, we're just gonna grind.’’
One of the good things the Isles will hope to build off is that Barzal scored his first postseason goal in Game 3, which, at the time, tied the score, 1-1, at 14:34 of the third period. Barzal also had several other excellent scoring chances, including one in overtime on the rebound of a Jordan Eberle shot that could have ended the game about a minute-and-a-half before Brad Marchand scored for the Bruins.
For Barzal, the strong performance -- four shots on goal and another shot from the goalmouth that went inches wide -- comes on the heels of another stout showing by him in Game 2. The back-to-back good games could be a signal that the Isles’ 24-year-old star is finally starting to heat up in the playoffs.
"I thought he had lots of ‘jump’ in his game,’’ Islanders coach Barry Trotz said of Barzal in Game 3. "I mean he was, he was dangerous all night.’’
The Islanders need all hands on deck if they are to somehow find a way to penetrate Tuukka Rask and get back in the series, and they especially need Barzal, their leading scorer in the regular season (17 goals, 28 assists, 45 points, in 55 games) to produce more than he has so far in the postseason. Through nine playoff games, he has just the one goal and four assists. Those five points tie Barzal with linemate Jordan Eberle for sixth on the team.
Barzal did seem more determined in Game 3, though. He was around the front of the net all night, and his goal against Rask came on his third attempt to stuff the puck in from the left goalpost.
It probably helped that he happened to be on ice against the Bruins’ fourth line and third defense pair on the goal, which would seem to almost be an insult, given the fact that Barzal is supposed to be the Isles’ No. 1 center.
Opposing coaches scout these things, though, and clearly, Boston’s Bruce Cassidy would rather use his top two lines and defense pairs against Brock Nelson’s line and Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line, as those are the two lines who have been playing the best for the Islanders in the postseason. So that means Cassidy is going to leave the task of handling Barzal, Eberle and Leo Komarov to his third and fourth lines.
And if that is the case, then Barzal is going to have to make Cassidy and the Bruins pay.