Only some five years into what would be his illustrious career, the great slugger Henry Aaron was asked if he cashed in as so many did in Major League Baseball’s era of Bonus Baby signings.
No, Aaron said politely, he received only a suitcase made of cardboard when he signed his contract with the Braves in the mid 1950s.
“And it fell apart the first time it rained,” said the legendary home run slugger.
It poured Thursday night for the Bruins. It came down in big buckets, and when the night was over, they were left with a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, by far their worst loss of the ’21 season.
The Isles poured it on in the third period, scoring five unanswered goals, and the Bruins came apart like a collection of Black and Gold cardboard luggage.
“We didn’t stick with it,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, concerned most over a stretch of three goals in the third when the Isles turned a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 lead in a span of less than seven minutes. “We gave up a third goal …and then we pressed, made some mistakes, gave their top players time and space and they buried us.”
With the five strikes in the third period, the Isles smashed the deadlock to smithereens amid what was the most goals allowed by the Bruins since giving up a five-spot to the Canucks in Boston on Nov. 8, 2018. They hadn’t allowed five in a third period since Dec. 26, 2015.
All in all, it was one of the worst nights the Bruins have endured since Cassidy became bench boss in February 2017. It dealt the Bruins their third loss in their last four games, and it was the third time this season they have lost to the Isles in regulation — adding concern for a club that has lost but four times in regulation all season.
Not to be discounted, of course, was the fact that the Bruins entered the night with a patchwork blue line, minus the likes of regulars Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, and Kevan Miller, all of whom were in the opening night lineup.
Their losses on the backline were telling and significant, but the breakdowns were many, including in net, where backup Jaro Halak stopped only 30 of 37 shots, and also among a forward group that too often didn’t do its part in keeping the Islanders from generating easy passage in the Boston end and creating solid scoring bids.
On the 3-2 game-winner, Anthony Beauvillier pressed the net after his initial shot from short range, clipped the puck right off rookie Trent Frederic’s stick in front of Halak, and popped home the winner.
Jordan Eberle was back to make it 4-2 less than five minutes later (10:45), rookie blueliner Urho Vaakanaien left as the lone man back on a 2-on-1 rush, and then Jean-Gabriel Pageau followed with the jawbreaker at 12:24, rushing in alone to make it 5-2 on a shorthanded breakaway. Bingo. Bango. Bongo.
Shift by shift, it just grew uglier, the Bruins completely losing their composure.
“Well, there wasn’t any, and that’s a problem,” said Cassidy, asked about third-period puck management. “We don’t usually see that with our club … decision-making . . . listen, we’ve got some young players in our lineup so we are going to live with certain mistakes. I think Charlie [McAvoy, No. 1 blueliner] pressed a little there in the third. And that’s a good defensive team, they don’t give you much, you need to have patience.”
A litany of poor decisions, added Cassidy, helped the Islanders knock in their fourth and five goals, and then the clouds emptied.
“The last two [goals], I think, now you’re discouraged and you just want to get the game over with,” said Cassidy. “And you really stop playing. We’re not going to overanalyze those … they were just harder in front of our net. They kept playing. We didn’t. Which is discouraging, don’t get me wrong, but I think the third, fourth, and fifth goals … we just weren’t good enough and that was that.”
The Bruins led briefly in the first when Nick Ritchie potted his seventh of the season at the 1:02 mark. Adam Pelech pulled the Isles even just more than two minutes later, followed by Matt Barzal at 12:39 for a 2-1 Isles lead. Craig Smith sent the Bruins into the break with a 2-2 tie when he connected at 11:36 of the second.
When the night was over, the Bruins had led for only 2:14 and the Isles for 33:16. In their three games thus far, all on Long Island, the Bruins have led for a mere 5:09, and trailed for 73:30. It doesn’t take an analytics expert to make clear the Bruins would not want to face the Islanders in the playoffs.
“Hopefully, tonight was a one-off,” said Ritchie. “They just filled the net there and we just fell apart, kind of stopped playing, and that’s what happens in this league.”