UNIONDALE, NY -- Mathew Barzal skated back onto the ice after the New York Islanders' Game 4 win. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum had been raucous all night, and Barzal gave the fans one more chance to roar as the game's first star, pumping his fist and screaming, "Let's go!" as he saluted them.
"It's the biggest game for us so far," he said after the Islanders' 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, which tied the East Division final. "We go down 3-1 in this series going back to TD Garden, and that's a death sentence."
It was Barzal who gave the Islanders life. At 13:03 of the third period, the puck bounced to him after Charlie Coyle blocked a point shot, and he whacked it out of the air to give New York the lead.
"A little bit of hand-eye. A little bit of luck. Obviously, the puck takes a weird skip. I don't think many people knew where it was. Just trying to get it to the net as quick as I can," he said.
Game 4 was a real emotional journey for Barzal. In nearly the same spot on the ice where he took his postgame victory lap, he crumpled to the ice early in the game, as Boston center David Krejci introduced his stick to Barzal's most sensitive of areas -- something that earned the veteran Bruin a $5,000 fine from the NHL on Sunday.
"I'm alright. I felt it was a little vicious," said Barzal. "It doesn't matter now."
Boston fans focused on what led to Krejci's cup-check on the Islanders star, which were a series of cross-checks Barzal delivered to the Bruins center in the defensive zone. Nefarious as they were, Barzal's stick-work served as an example of the kind of game Barzal knows he needs play in the postseason. Opponents slow him down by any means necessary. He responds in kind.
"You just gotta grind it out when things aren't going my way in the playoffs offensively. That's what it comes down to. Just battling for the boys," Barzal said.
"He's battling through everything. Here's our top guy. You know guys are going to take runs at him. They're going to try and finish him. He keeps pushing forward. There's no give in that kid," said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas. "Not just offensively, but he was good in our own zone as well. You get rewarded when you play like that."