Barry Pese says that if he weren’t training, he’d be glued to television watching the New York Islanders play their riveting playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
But if Pese weren’t the coach, the Islanders probably wouldn’t be there.
Aside from the defensive sturdiness of the Islanders, evidence of the head coach’s impact is the way New York embraces and embodies the idea of a four-line team. That, and the fact that the Islanders are in their eighth playoff series since spite came three years ago, and the five series won by New York, and counting? – are more than the franchise earned in the previous 30 years.
Yes, there is a “Barry effect to weigh” for the Islanders, who beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday at Long Island to equal the fierce final of the East Division at 2-2.
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No individual islander is as good as the top four Bruins, though New York dynamo Mathew Barzal is pretty close when he plays like he did on Saturday, wonderfully setting up Kyle Palmieri for his team’s first goal and scoring the winner himself with A deflected puck passed Bruins goalkeeper Tuukka Rask at 1:03 p.m. in the third period.
But the Islanders have depth and balance and, more than that, clarity and consistency among players about their roles and what they have to do each night to help New York win.
If you weren’t sure what the Stanley Cup playoffs are about, you just need to pay attention to Spy during his 12-minute pre-game Zoom call with reporters.
“That’s the tough mental part of playoff hockey that people don’t understand, that it won’t feel good all the time, it won’t look good all the time,” he explained anyway. “And you may not get anything. I mean, you could spend 58 minutes, 59 minutes in a game where nothing has happened because both teams are very sharp in terms of details and ice protection and all that. And then, a fraction of a second, the game could be over. So that’s the tough mental part of the game that people don’t understand. You cannot relax.
“We know that you stand your ground, you are resilient and you understand that (going after a series) is not the way we want it to go. Every team would love to beat the other team four in a row and win a Stanley Cup and go home. But that is fantasy, that does not happen. You have to stay in the moment and you have to be willing to engage in all of those areas. This is a good series. I was saying, if I wasn’t training, I would be watching the show because it’s an amazing show right now. “
On the relentless physique of his team: “You start to take the other person out of their game. That’s what physical play does. It wears you down, it wears you out mentally. Some guys are mentally stronger than others. Some guys have a bigger spine, as I would say, when it comes to those situations. And that’s why, I think in the playoffs, (hitting) increases a little bit.
“He is like a boxer. They hit you enough, at some point you’re going to fall. This is how fights are won. You have to… win your battles to free yourself from people and get inside. And that’s playoff hockey. As much as it is about ability, it is as much about will. “
And he explained the difference between coaching the four-line Islanders compared to when he won the Stanley Cup in 2018 with the Washington Capitals, whose high-level stars were comparable to the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy.
“I think it’s a bit (different) with the elite superstars,” he said. “Those players demand ice time and they have earned their ice time over time. But sometimes you have to manage them a bit more in different areas and different parts of their game, so you find other ways to get other guys involved.
“With this group, with the four lines, everyone knows that they are going to have to play, everyone knows that they are going to have to play against everyone and everyone knows that they are going to have to find ways to contribute. And they have. I always say: ‘Know who you are as a player. And I think we know who we are. “
And then the Islanders played Game 4 the way Pese explained his team. Sparkly.
ATTACK ON THE BAT OF MAT
Goalless and with just four points in his first eight playoff games, Barzal has been better with every game in this series and was flying Saturday. He was the game’s first star, setting up a goal and scoring another before the Islanders added a pair of empty scorers.
“If we lose three games in a row in the playoffs and I have not produced or my game has failed, then obviously I am hard on myself,” Barzal told reporters after the game. “These are the playoffs; It’s all about winning hockey games, whether you’re the guy who scores a winning goal that night or the guy who just plays the sound all night and helps your team in different ways. Obviously I’m hard on myself, but at this time of year it’s just about getting wins. “
After disappearing at times amid the physical chaos during the first two games in Boston, Barzal was in the middle of all of Saturday.
He was lucky enough to get away with only a minor penalty for a high cross control over Curtis Lazar in the first period, and was lucky to get away with his reproductive organs intact after David Krejci impaled him in the crotch in the second.
Barzal had given Krejci four quick cross controls from behind during a disc battle in the corner when the veteran Bruin turned on him. Initially, Krejci was given a higher penalty for spearing, but it was revised and downgraded to a lower cutting penalty.
“He is an elite player with superstar, superstar ability and when he comes out, we follow him right behind him,” said his teammate Casey Cizikas after his goal on empty net. “He’s our best boy and you know guys are going to try to run up to him. You don’t have to give up, that boy doesn’t give up. You could see that tonight. “
THEY ARE PLAYOFFS WHEN …
Boston winger Taylor Hall had his first NHL fight since 2011 when he accepted a challenge in the first period from Islanders defender Scott Mayfield.
“We are playing a lot with each other,” Mayfield said. “He likes to hit the net, he has speed, so I need to make sure I’m physical with him. The playoffs get emotional, and I think that’s what it was. Good for him; I know he’s not known for doing that, that’s for sure. “