It was only a matter of time until New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal started to heat up offensively.
That time is now.
Barzal scored the game-winning goal and added an assist in the Islanders’ 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, helping them even their Second Round series at two games apiece.
The series now shifts to Boston for Game 5 on Monday (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and guarantees that there will be at least one more game at the Coliseum (Game 6 on Wednesday) before the Islanders move to their new home next season.
Barzal used his elite skating and puck handling ability to set up Kyle Palmieri‘s game-tying goal in the second period, and then scored the game-winner when he batted the puck out of mid-air late in the third period to beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
It is his second straight game with a goal, and extends his current point streak to four consecutive games.
[NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
It has to be a welcome sight for the Islanders after he was so quiet offensively through the first part of the playoffs. He managed just three assists (and zero goals) in his first seven games. At that point it would have been easy to question what was wrong with him, or why he was not rising to the occasion in the playoffs, or if teams had found a way to clamp down on him when the games get tighter.
But the reality is that sometimes players, even the best players, go through a stretch where the goals are not there. That is especially true come playoff time (example here). The key is having enough depth so your team can still win games without the stars scoring every night to buy them enough time to bust out of that slump. The Islanders have done that, and now they are being rewarded with an impact performance from Barzal.
For as good as the Islanders have been the past three years their success has never been built around offense or goal scoring. It is about structure, defense, goaltending, and turning the middle of the ice into a mess that nobody can get through. Barzal, though, is the one player on the roster that can break a game open and take over. When he is going at his best he can be one of the most electrifying players in the league and one of its must-see players. He is starting to reach that level right now and it has helped keep this series ridiculously close through the first four games.
It is now a best-of-three series the rest of the way.
Saturday’s game was also especially physical and featured two fights in the first period (including a shocking Taylor Hall vs. Scott Mayfield bout) and a bizarre sequence involving Barzal and David Krejci in the second period. After Barzal delivered several uncalled cross-checks to Krejci’s back, Krejci turned around and clearly speared Barzal between the legs. Krejci was initially given a five-minute major for spearing, only to have it reduced to a two-minute minor for slashing after an official review.
BRUINS VS. ISLANDERS (Series tied 2-2) – series livestream link
Game 1: Bruins 5, Islanders 2
Game 2: Islanders 4, Bruins 3 (OT)
Game 3: Bruins 2, Islanders 1 (OT)
Game 4: Islanders 4, Bruins 1
Game 5: Mon. June 7: Islanders at Bruins, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 6: Wed. June 9: Bruins at Islanders TBD
*Game 7: Fri. June 11: Islanders at Bruins TBD
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.