June 11 — Hart, Semifinals & Island Living

On Tap For Today — No games. Tampa vs New York Sunday 3pm EDT NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports; & Vegas vs Montreal Monday 6pm PDT NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS

Thursday’s Tap-in

THEY’VE GOT HART: Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid were announced as Hart Memorial Trophy finalists, each vying to be named the league’s MVP. Sure glad we don’t have to make that decision!

BRAD’S RAD: The Blue Jackets officially named Brad Larsen their new head coach on Thursday, inking a three-year deal with their longtime assistant.

MACK TRUCKIN’: MacKinnon isn’t just dynamic in the regular season — Through 50 career playoff games, his 68 points are sixth-best in the league’s history. Wayne Gretzky’s record of 104 points over that same span is not only ridiculous, in this day and age it’s likely untouchable.

BLOOMING SUCCESS: Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s 30 saves helped the Golden Knights to a series-clinching win over the Avalanche last night. The win was Flower’s 89th career playoff victory, placing him fourth overall in NHL history, just three behind Grant Fuhr for third place.

SEMIFINALS ARE SET: The Stanley Cup Semifinals will feature the Canadiens and Golden Knights battling for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, while the Islanders and Lightning square off for the Prince of Wales Trophy. We’re giddy with excitement!

Isles Grind Their Way to the Final Four

The best way to explain what the New York Islanders are might just be by highlighting what they are not. The Isles, who are on to a third-round clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning after dispatching the Boston Bruins in six games, are the perfect antithesis to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

We’re not even talking about the personnel links between the franchises — Lou Lamoriello moved to Long Island after being relieved of his GM duties in Toronto, and John Tavares left the Islanders for the Leafs in free agency in 2018. While the Leafs boast a top-heavy, highly-paid quartet of star forwards, New York has mainly leaned on lineup of balance and grit.

The results, as they say, speak for themselves. New York’s hard-nosed, depth-oriented game is made for playoff hockey. In the three years since losing their long-time captain Tavares, the Isles have won five playoff series — more series wins than in the franchise’s previous 30 seasons combined. They have also been able to do this on a budget. While the “core four” of the Leafs are on the hook for more than $40 million next season, New York has most of their foundation locked up without anyone making more than $7 million.

This playoff run has already shown the value of grit and depth, the two tenets that the Islanders’ identity is built upon. Against a physical Bruins squad, New York never backed down or let up. Now, as they head into the final four, they do so riding a balanced scoring attack featuring 11 players who have recorded five or more points this postseason. Meanwhile, trade deadline addition Kyle Palmieri has made Lamoriello look like a very smart man with seven goals in 12 games.

The defending champion Lightning will be heavily favored heading into their battle for the Prince of Wales Trophy, and that’s just how the Islanders like it. While the club should probably be getting more respect in NHL circles than they have after dispatching the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bruins, the “scrappy band of underdogs” label fits New York perfectly well. Look out, Tampa!


What Went Wrong

Narrowing down the remaining NHL postseason playing field to four division champions means that another four clubs must fall by the wayside. In conjunction with our “In Memoriam” segment, we are using this space to offer some final words to these vanquished hopefuls.

Boston Bruins

In the aftermath of the Islanders’ Game 6 triumph over the Bruins, you might say that the Isles used the Bruins’ playbook against them. In a physical series, New York used grit, feistiness, and an all-around nasty edge to take control against a group that featured plenty of sandpaper in their own right.

The end result is Boston’s third Round 2 playoff exit in four years. If that sounds like a problematic trend, it probably shouldn’t — most NHL franchises would envy five playoff series victories during that timeframe.

What remains to be seen, however, is just how many more such runs this group has in them. Captain Patrice Bergeron is 35 years old, Brad Marchand is 33, and fellow foundational Bruins — David Krejčí (35) and Tuukka Rask (34) — are pending free agents. The presence of David Pastrňák (25), along with the growth and development of youngsters like Jake DeBrusk (24), Charlie McAvoy (23), and possible Rask replacement Jeremy Swayman (22), ensure carry over stability — but no one can be sure what a new generation of Bruins will bring.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One major looming threat to what is an aging core is injuries, a risk that Boston got several sobering reminders of this year. However, while graybeards Bergeron and Marchand actually kept pretty healthy, it was the blue line — already hindered by the free agent departures of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara — that took some blows. Pending RFA Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk both missed significant time, taking a big bite out of the club’s back end depth chart.

It’s a credit to McAvoy’s breakthrough season and the guidance of head coach Bruce Cassidy that Boston’s blue line held up as well as it did, but the unit will still need to be addressed this off-season. Mike Reilly and Kevan Miller join Carlo in needing new contracts, placing added emphasis on the need for a retooled back end. Luckily, the B’s could have upwards of nearly $30 million in cap space available.

Every team faces its own roster construction struggles each offseason, and there’s typically little to worry about when it comes to well-managed franchises like the Bruins. Will they have a different look next year? Sure — but you can pretty well set your clock to Marchand having a new playoff opponent to annoy and a new fan base to rile up next spring.


IN MEMORIAM

Please join us in a moment of silence for these recently eliminated teams – gone, but never forgotten. We can’t wait until we meet again (the 2021-22 season, of course!), but for now we’ll take this opportunity to reflect on their brief — but memorable — playoff run.

Colorado Avalanche
Dates Active: 1/13/21 – 6/10/21
Cause of Death: Having the best record in the regular season, duh.
Last Words: Curses!