Three reasons why Bruins' win over Islanders was their best of 2021

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Nick Goss
·6 min read
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Three reasons why Bruins' win over Isles was their best of 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins gave their most impressive performance of the season Thursday night in a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders at TD Garden.

Sure, the Bruins have won several games this season by more than a three-goal margin, but when you look at how well the Bruins played in all three zones, how impressive the trade deadline additions are performing, and how important it is for Rask to be in the lineup and playing well, it's easy to see why this victory stands out above the rest.

Here are three reasons why this win was so important for the Bruins.

Islanders are excellent team, and B's dominated them

The Islanders are one of the league's best defensive teams -- they entered Thursday allowing the fourth-fewest shots and third-fewest goals per game -- but New York didn't look anything like that against the B's. 

The Bruins held a 40-13 advantage in scoring chances, a 71-40 edge in shot attempts and a 45-23 lead in shots on net. These are staggering differentials, especially when you consider that Boston led the entire game. The B's did not stop attacking, and their effort was rewarded throughout.

This heat map of scoring chances illustrates Boston's relentless play in the attacking zone:

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From a defensive standpoint, for the Bruins to allow only 13 scoring chances and zero high-danger chances for an entire game that included 4:23 of power-play time for the Islanders, is really impressive. The Bruins made the danger areas in front of the net an impenetrable fortress.

The Bruins had zero wins (0-3-2) in their five previous games versus the Islanders this season. There's no question this victory will give Boston plenty of confidence in future matchups with New York, and some of those might come in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tuukka Rask is back and looks good

Rask returned to the lineup for the first time since March 25 -- and only his second appearance since March 7 -- and played really well. He made 22 saves on 23 shots for his 300th career win, which is an impressive milestone that not many goalies have reached in fewer games than Rask.

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The Bruins need Rask healthy and playing well to make a deep playoff run. He's their best chance at returning to the Stanley Cup Final. Rask has the sixth-best playoff save percentage (.926) in league history among goalies with 35-plus career postseason games.

Jaroslav Halak is not a No. 1 netminder for a team with championship aspirations. Jeremy Swayman has excelled in his short tenure in Boston but putting that kind of burden on a rookie would be far from ideal. 

The Bruins will go as far as Rask takes them. He's an elite goalie when healthy, and the Bruins must handle his workload flawlessly to ensure Rask avoids further injury and is ready to go when the playoffs arrive.

Taylor Hall, trade deadline additions fitting in

It hasn't taken long for the Bruins' biggest trade deadline acquisition to make a difference. After a slightly above average debut in which Hall led the B's with six offensive-zone entries Tuesday, he found the back of the net for the first time as a Bruin in the third period Thursday night.

Hall used his great speed, protected the puck and showed off his excellent shot on Boston's third goal:

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We've talked all season about scoring depth being a potentially fatal flaw on the B's roster, and there's no question the deadline additions of Hall, defenseman Mike Reilly and fourth-line forward Curtis Lazar are paying dividends in that regard.

The Bruins have finally found their permanent second line with Hall and Craig Smith on David Krejci's wings. This trio has been on fire through two games together. Krejci and Smith scored in Tuesday's win over the Sabres, and on Wednesday it was Smith and Hall finding the back of the net.

Red-hot Smith giving Bruins the scoring depth they desperately need

The fourth line of Lazar, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner also is giving the B's much-needed energy, physicality and defensive prowess. This group had a 6-5 shots on net edge and a 3-1 scoring chance advantage at 5-on-5 over the Islanders despite only one of their faceoffs coming in the attacking zone.

Reilly has come in and excelled on the second pairing as well. His ability to jumpstart the transition game with accurate stretch passes that create scoring chances off the rush has proven valuable. The Bruins held a staggering 25-6 edge in shot attempts, a 16-4 lead in shots on net and a 16-2 advantage in scoring chances when the Reilly-Clifton pairing was on the ice at 5-on-5 versus the Islanders.

“Stuff we’ve been lacking all year from the group as a whole on a consistent basis,” B's head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Reilly's impact. “Certainly Matt Grzelcyk gives us that when he's healthy. I see some similarities in their game. They’re good puck movers, they get it up in a hurry. It's on and off their stick. O-zone blue line they’re fairly quick with the decision making. Just a bigger version. 

"Those guys are valuable in today’s game, especially now with our forward group healthy. We've got some wingers that can get moving. We've tried to stretch them out a little more. He’s going to help that part of the game. He seems to be a good defender. I haven’t seen him get in a lot of trouble. The Islanders are a heavy checking team and have some guys who can play and generate offense. Short sample size, but boy, he’s a nice find for us.”

Depth is among the most vital components of a true Stanley Cup contender. The Bruins bolstered their depth at the trade deadline and the pieces have fit really well so far. Now they must show some consistency and continue to build chemistry together before the playoffs commence.