If the Islanders are the New York Saints — and the boisterous Nassau Coliseum crowd embraced that unwitting rebranding courtesy of opposing coach Bruce Cassidy, chanting it repeatedly right through the final buzzer — then the Bruins are the Ain’ts.
They ain’t in the playoffs anymore after the Islanders’ 6-2 win in Wednesday night’s Game 6 before a crowd of 12,000.
It sets up a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning as the Islanders advanced to the NHL semifinals in back-to-back years for the first time since 1983-84.
“We recognized this as a special moment for this building,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Guys understood the magnitude of this game. They’re a really solid, veteran group and they understand the moments and this was a moment for them. What a great atmosphere.”
The Lightning beat the Islanders in six games last season.
“To be the best you’ve got to beat the best,” said Brock Nelson, who scored two goals. “I don’t think anybody has been sitting here thinking about revenge on Tampa. Just trying to take each game, each series one at a time. Now we can turn our page and turn our focus to them. They’re obviously a great team.”
Josh Bailey added two assists and Semyon Varlamov made 23 saves.
“It’s a total team effort,” Bailey said. “You need everyone to beat a team like that. I thought from Varly on out, we were playing the way we needed to play to get the win. Certainly happy to move on. I think we still have some unfinished business.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us seeing [the Lightning] again in the semifinals,” Anthony Beauvillier said. “To get back to the spot we were last year with some unfinished business, it’s a great opportunity for us and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Islanders also learned a lesson from last season, when they nearly lost a 3-1 series lead to the Flyers in the second round before winning Game 7 in the Toronto bubble. But they needed to travel to Edmonton and open the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning within 48 hours and wound up losing that Game 1, 8-2, and the series in six games.
So, yes, clinching against the Bruins in their first opportunity was certainly on the Islanders’ minds. The NHL has not yet announced when the Islanders-Lightning series will start but it will almost certainly be this weekend.
“You want to close it as quick as you can,” Beauvillier said. “We weren’t really thinking about Game 7, we wanted to get the job done tonight. We’re happy that we’re standing here with a happy face so it was really well done from us tonight.”
The Islanders entered the third period leading 4-1 after their three-goal second period.
Nelson’s first goal made it 2-1 at 5:20 as he pickpocketed defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and skated unchecked to the crease. Nelson scored again at 12:39 after the Islanders’ forecheck forced a turnover and Bailey fed him at the crease.
That became 4-1 as Kyle Palmieri knocked it in at the right post at 16:07.
Brad Marchand’s second power-play goal as he spun open at the right post, brought the Bruins within 4-2 at 5:38 of the third period, then Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Ryan Pulock clinched it with empty-net goals in the final minute.
The game was evenly played to start with both goalies tracking the puck well and stopping early chances. Tuukka Rask (23 saves) was able to smother Pulock’s hard shot from the right point through traffic just 13 seconds into the game.
Defenseman Noah Dobson’s shot from the right point turned into the game’s opening score as Travis Zajac, with his first playoff goal for the Islanders, established position in the low slot and put back the rebound at 8:52 of the first period.
But the Bruins tied it at 1 on Marchand’s power-play goal from the right circle off David Pastrnak’s cross-ice feed at 17:36 of the first period. Beauvillier was whistled for tripping defenseman Charlie McAvoy at 14:13 and Casey Cizikas tripped Taylor Hall at 16:00.
The Bruins were 7-for-14 on the power play in the series.
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