After they had finally finished off the New York Rangers last Friday night in the Patrick Division final, the Islanders were asked whether they preferred to play Boston or Buffalo in the next round.

"Either team will be tough, and we'll be ready for them," said Coach Al Arbour.

Bob Bourne wondered about Boston goalie Pete Peeters. "I know he'd be really ready for us. Maybe it would be better to play Buffalo," he said, then added: "really, we'd rather play whichever team is the most tired."

Tonight the Islanders will find out whether the Bruins are indeed weary from their seven-game series with the Sabres, which ended 1:52 into overtime on Sunday night when Brad Park's goal gave Boston a 3-2 victory.

The Bruins and Islanders previously met in the 1980 playoffs, a black-and-blue series punctuated by what seemed to be nonstop fighting. The Islanders won in five games.

But this season, the Islanders did not beat Boston once in their three meetings. Boston's grinding, wear-down-the-opposition style, combined with Peeters' skillful goaltending, should make this an intriguing series.

"We're ready for a long one, and we know how hard it could be," said goaltender Billy Smith. Smith, who played in the last two games of the Islanders-Rangers series, was not challenged much on either night, and realizes that will change radically against the Bruins.

"We really have to watch that line of (Rick) Middleton, (Barry) Pederson and (Mike) Krushelnyski," said Bourne. "They're fast and seem to be clicking, just the way our line (Bourne and Sutter brothers Duane and Brent) is doing."

Middleton's 25 playoff points (eight goals, 17 assists) leave him just one point behind Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky among the playoff scoring leaders. Pederson, with 10 goals, is averaging one per game.

Boston Coach Gerry Cheevers was upset when his team failed to defeat Buffalo in the sixth game of that round, losing, 5-3, instead of wrapping it up and getting a day's rest before the start of this series.

"You work all year for home ice and then it comes down to a seventh game," he said. Peeters would speak to no one after allowing five goals in that game, but in spite of such infrequent lapses, he has played consistently well, and will be a challenge to Islander shooters Mike Bossy, Bourne and Butch Goring.

The Islander goaltenders, Roland Melanson and Smith, have played well so far although Smith did have some bad moments early last week. He had a horrendous performance in the third game with the Rangers, giving up five goals in 20 shots before being replaced by Melanson.

Smith is more likely to remain in goal for this series, since Arbour doesn't like the two-goalie system for the playoffs, and will only rotate goaltenders if the team is in real trouble.

Smith, who thinks of himself as the Islanders' Mr. Playoff, looked ahead to the Boston games and said, "From here on, it's all going to be fun hockey."

Bryan Trottier, who did not see as much ice time as he might have expected, did play consistently throughout the Islanders' fifth and sixth games with the Rangers, and says his left knee, which suffered a slight sprain and small ligament tear, is gradually returning to full strength. Clark Gillies, whose severely sprained left knee has kept him out of action since before the end of the regular season, skates every day and anticipates returning to the lineup before the end of the Boston series. Dave Langevin, going through daily rehabilitation program for his strained right knee, remains out indefinitely, although he is optimistic about returning before the playoffs are over.