Mathew Barzal Finds Scoring Touch for Islanders
Islanders fans had grown used to seeing Mathew Barzal score. But in the first eight playoff games this spring, Barzal, the team’s point guard for each of the past four seasons, hasn’t scored a goal.
The Islanders’ quick center started to appear in the team’s second round series against Boston.
He broke a three-game scoreless streak in Game 2 and ultimately scored in Thursday’s overtime loss to the Bruins in Game 3.
Then, in Saturday’s Game 4 – a swing game with the Islanders lagging behind in the two-game-one series – 24-year-old Barzal had an evening that fans at the Nassau Coliseum will long remember.
He beat Boston’s Curtis Lazar before passing the puck to Kyle Palmieri for the tying goal in the second period, then gave the go-ahead in the third, passing the puck past Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Islanders won 4-1 to tie the series before Monday’s Game 5 in Boston.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s not backing down,” said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas, who scored in an empty net on Saturday. “He’s rewarded for that and it’s nice to see. He’s an elite player with superstar skills.
That offensive momentum came after Barzal received a retaliatory slash under the belt from Boston’s David Krejci – whom he had double-checked and who was fined $ 5,000 on Sunday – midway through the second period and needed time to recover.
When asked if his level of frustration was rising without scoring until the last two games, Barzal said he focused on how he could contribute in other ways.
Barzal’s line, with Jordan Eberle and Leo Komarov on the wings, worked feverishly on both ends of the ice throughout the playoffs as the Islanders knocked out the East Division-winning Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. to prepare for the game against the Bruins.
“As much as I would love to produce every night, it’s so tight there and sometimes it doesn’t come that easily,” said Barzal. “When it doesn’t come offensively that night, I just make sure I’m not on the ice for goals against or to make that block or just to try to get the puck out. I just play sound hockey.
He now has five assists in 10 playoff games. With team captain Anders Lee out of these playoffs with a knee injury that ended the season in March, Barzal may have had to take on additional responsibility, a role he has embraced. .
Barzal’s heroism is not unexpected. A first-round pick for the Islanders in 2015, he quickly established himself as a NHL playmaker and scorer, winning Rookie of the Year in 2018.
Barzal first shared the limelight with former Islanders captain John Tavares. He has since worked to adapt to the game without Tavares after signing for Toronto in 2018, and the style of coach Barry Trotz after taking office this season.
Clark Gillies, the Hall of Fame who won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders, praised Barzal’s skating ability, but would like to see him shoot more often.
“He loves to get assists,” said Gillies. “The last time I checked, a rebound is an assist.”
With a win in Game 5, the Islanders have the opportunity to bring the series back to the Coliseum on Wednesday for a chance to win Game 6.
They came from behind to clinch each of their last four playoff wins, their longest playoff streak since 1993, the last time the Nassau Coliseum hosted the semi-finals. The Islanders will be leaving the arena for a new home in Belmont Park next season.
“We never got out of a series,” Barzal said. “It’s just about winning hockey games. I’m hard on myself, about winning and trying to help the team.
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