Bruins look at what could’ve been vs. Islanders
BOSTON — Back in June 2015, the Boston Bruins owned three straight picks in the first round of the NHL draft.
They had No. 13 from dealing Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings. They had No. 14, their own. They had No. 15, from the Calgary Flames in the Dougie Hamilton deal.
Three picks in a row. To this point, Jake DeBrusk, their own pick at 14, is the only one to make it to the NHL.
With the 16th pick in the 2015 draft, the New York Islanders selected Mathew Barzal, a center from the Seattle Thunderbirds. They also passed on Kyle Connor (Winnipeg, 17th), Brock Boeser (Vancouver,23rd) and Alex DeBrincat (Chicago, 39th).
On Saturday, Barzal and the Islanders visit the Bruins, allowing Boston fans to get their first look at a special rookie as the Islanders wrap up a four-game road trip.
While DeBrusk was playing better before missing three games and returning in Thursday night’s 6-1 rout of the Arizona Coyotes, Barzal has eight goals and 27 points in his first 28 games — 13 points in the last 13 games — and leads NHL rookies in scoring.
He scored a late goal that triggered a two-goal rally that sent the Isles into overtime Thursday in Pittsburgh. They lost the game but got the point.
“That was a big-time goal to get us a little more momentum and we definitely fed off that,” said Brock Nelson, who followed Barzal’s goal with the tying goal with 1:10 left in regulation.
In the previous game, at Florida, Barzal made two outstanding moves in overtime and then scored the only goal of the shootout, coach Doug Weight yielding to pressure by throwing the rookie out there.
“Because he wouldn’t stop staring at me when I picked the first two guys. I wouldn’t look at him,” Weight said. “Somehow I think he thinks that’s why I picked him. … But he’s a confident kid, he was excited, he wanted to get out there. Those (Jordan Eberle, John Tavares and Barzal) were the three I was going with.”
The Islanders are 16-9-3 overall, 6-3-1 in their last 10 and sat tied for second in the Metropolitan Division after Thursday’s games.
The Bruins, winners of three of their last four — all three wins by Tuukka Rask in goal — have gotten back to legitimate (not NHL) .500 at 13-9-4.
David Backes, who needed half the expected time coming back from having 10 inches of his colon removed Nov. 2, scored his first two goals of the season to take the Bruins from a 1-1 tie to a 3-1 lead in the second period Thursday night.
Boston then finished the game off with a strong third period, blowing it open as Rask was forced to face just 21 shots.
“It was a good team win, put a crooked number up on the board,” Backes said. “Playing the right way — forced to play the right way against a team that was clogging up the neutral zone and turning pucks down our throat. Kind of a teeter-totter game there for the first half then I think we got to our ideals and what our identity has been for winning games.”
Rask is 10-5-0 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 16 career appearances against the Islanders. New York’s Jaroslav Halak is 8-6 with 2.18/.930 lifetime against Boston.
On Friday, the Islanders, who allowed two power-play goals in four straight games, practiced at TD Garden, meeting and then working on the penalty kill.
“You need to focus on it and not ignore it. We went to work, watched some video and we’ll try to be better,” said coach Doug Weight.
After Thursday’s game, Weight said, “We’re going to figure out how to kill a penalty. Sometimes you have to learn again. What’s happening is pretty incredible right now. Five out of the last seven that 80 percent of the kill is gone and we’re saying they’re frustrated, we’re doing a great job and it’s in our net on the first chance.”
Former Bruin Johnny Boychuk, who missed Thursday’s game with what the coach called a “lingering ailment,” was kept off skates Friday. Weight said the defenseman felt better and is 50/50 for Saturday night.
The Islanders won both games in Boston and the Bruins took the only meeting in Brooklyn last season.