How the Bruins-Islanders Series Exemplified Why We Love Hockey

GameEdge Analytics
2 min readJun 15, 2021
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It does not take a hockey scholar to recognize the utter dominance of the New York Islanders in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins. All night long, Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier led the charge as the Islanders relentlessly applied pressure in the Bruins’ defensive zone.

Boosted by a home crowd of over 10,000, the Islanders appeared faster, more physical, and more controlled for most of the game. While the Bruins’ top six and defenseman Charlie McAvoy occasionally gave the Isles trouble, the Islanders generally took matters into their own hands. They had 2.81 expected goals in the game compared to a measly 1.94 for the Bruins. Additionally, the Islanders had seven shots with a goal probability greater than 0.1, while the Bruins only managed four.

Despite the Islanders’ offensive firepower, the scoreboard in Nassau Coliseum showed 1–0 in favor of the Bruins until approximately the fifteen-minute mark of the third period, when Barzal finally tied the game on a wraparound goal, sending the crowd into a frenzy. The Islanders continued to dominate through the rest of regulation and into the beginning of overtime, searching for the decisive goal to give them the series lead.

It seemed it was only a matter of time before they would break through, but suddenly, Bruins star winger Brad Marchand ripped a shot from 21 feet away at a shocking 76.6º angle (0.02 goal probability!!) past the glove of Islanders goaltender Seymon Varlamov, stealing a crucial victory and sinking thousands of hearts across New York.

Four nights later, the Bruins found themselves in a similar position. After the Islanders tied up the series in Game 4, the Bruins were dominating Game 5, as they had nearly twice the number of takeaways as the Islanders and more than double the number of shots. According to Moneypuck’s Deserve To Win O’Meter, the Bruins had a 64.2 chance to win based on 1,000 simulations of the game based on the quantity and quality of shots. Yet at the end of the night, Barzal and his crew came away with a seemingly miraculous 5–4 victory.

A hockey team’s ability to win games in which its opponent thoroughly dominated speaks volumes for the tremendous degree of randomness involved in hockey. Our eyes did not fool us, and the analytics that provided a more complete picture certainly did not mislead us either.

Read Federman’s Full Analysis at GameEdgeAnalytics.com:

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