Zajac, Palmieri enjoying Islanders playoff run, help eliminate Bruins

This is what Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri were hoping for when they were traded to the New York Islanders on April 7.

It’s also what the Islanders were hoping for when the forwards were acquired from the New Jersey Devils.

Zajac and Palmieri each scored a goal in a 6-2 series-ending win against the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Second Round at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday. 

Each played a significant role in the series, playing on a line with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau and helping the Islanders advance to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Semifinals in a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.

“They have assimilated with this group very, very well,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “They’ve got great personalities. They’ve got great professionalism and, honestly, I said to the coaching staff, I think they’re having a ball right now.”

Video: BOS@NYI, Gm6: Palmieri powers puck past Rask in close

Palmieri led New York with four goals and tied Mathew Barzal and Pageau for the Islanders lead with six points against Boston. Palmieri leads the Islanders with seven goals in 12 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, one off the postseason lead shared by Boston’s Brad Marchand, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Brayden Point of the Lightning.

Zajac’s rebound goal that gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead 8:52 into the first period Wednesday was his first of the playoffs and his second point.

“You want to come and you want to try to contribute any way possible coming to a team that made a deep run last year and showed why they’re back in the playoffs this year,” Zajac said. “So it’s a great group and it’s fun to be part of.”

Video: BOS@NYI, Gm6: Zajac nets Dobson rebound from in front

Neither Zajac or Palmieri played in the playoffs since losing to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference First Round with New Jersey in 2018. So with the Devils out of contention and each in the last season of his contract, they welcomed the opportunity to join the Islanders.

New York gave up forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst, a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in the trade, but the cost has proven to be worth it.

“I can’t say enough good things about those guys, not only as players but people,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. “I think two additions that have really went a long way for us in the room, on the ice. Just great people. They’ve really added another element to our team and a big reason why we’re here talking right now.”

Zajac is enjoying being part of another playoff run after reaching the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils in 2012 before losing to the Los Angeles Kings.

“It was just a great team effort, contributions from everybody throughout the lineup,” Zajac said. “It was an electric atmosphere. It was really fun to be a part of. I’m proud of the way we battled in the series.” 

It’s the second straight season the Islanders were able to acquire key pieces before the NHL Trade Deadline that helped them go on lengthy playoff runs. Last season, they acquired Pageau from the Ottawa Senators and defenseman Andy Greene from the Devils.

Pageau leads New York with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 12 playoff games this season after scoring 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 22 games last postseason. Greene has been a steadying presence on the third defense pair and penalty kill and is averaging 18:18 in ice time in 12 playoff games this season after averaging 17:40 in 21 games last postseason.

Trotz credited general manager Lou Lamoriello, a three-time Stanley Cup winner as general manager of the Devils, with acquiring players who fit well. Lamoriello knew Greene and Zajac from his time as Devils GM, which ended in 2015 before Palmieri was acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks.

“Lou’s won a few a Cups, and I think his knowledge over the time he’s been in the League, he’s a learned guy and he has seen a number of things,” Trotz said. “I love talking with Lou. We talk daily, and he understands building a roster. There will Player A and Player B, and the values that a lot of people might put on a certain player because it’s the sexy thing to do. He understands the intrinsic value of a player in tough games and in the locker room and as a teammate and as a pro, all the stuff that you don’t put a lot of numbers to. Everything that he does is very thorough and has substance to it.”

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