NEWARK — It’s all math now for the Bruins, with a playoff berth tucked in their back pocket, but the numbers did not trend their way at the Prudential Center Tuesday night with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils.
Pavel Zacha knocked home the winner 2:42 into the extra session, lifting a backhander past Jaroslav Halak with the Devils skating with a four-on-three advantage because of a delayed penalty against the Bruins.
The loss was only the third the Bruins have suffered in the 13 games (10-2-1) since the April 12 trade deadline and it left them lodged in the No. 3 seed in the East. They will wrap up their regular-season schedule next Tuesday night in Washington, and only know that their first-round opponent will be the Capitals, Penguins, or Islanders.
With four games left on their 56-game schedule, the Bruins still have a chance of securing the first seed in the division and holding home-ice advantage for two rounds. They’ll just have to do a better job of closing than they did on Tuesday night, when they lost hold of a third-period lead.
“I don’t think it was our best night from our back end in terms of defending the middle of the ice, being good one on one,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “We had enough leads to put it away, but I don’t think we were as good as we needed to be.”
Sean Kuraly broke a 2-2 deadlock with 9:18 remaining in regulation, driving the slot and deflecting home David Pastrnak’s diagonal feed off right wing.
But only 1:59 later, rookie Yegor Sharangovich blitzed by defenseman Mike Reilly (Cassidy: “We were stumbling around”) on the right wing and snapped home a dart for the 3-3 equalizer. Halak had zero chance to turn back the Sharangovich freight train.
In the three-on-three OT, after banking a 36-19 shot lead over 60 minutes, the end came for the Bruins when the Devils were able to add a fourth skater with the delayed penalty. Set up by Jack Hughes, Zacha blitzed in from the left side and picked his spot over Halak.
“That goal is tough on anybody,” noted Cassidy. “It’s four on three in our zone, guys are tired, and they made a play. But we need to close out better.”
Patrice Bergeron and Taylor Hall scored the other two goals for the Bruins, who’ll be back at work Thursday night with the Rangers at TD Garden for Game 1 of a two-game set.
For the second night in a row, the Bruins potted a pair in the middle period, and they carried a lead into the third for a fifth straight game. It turned into the third time this season that the Bruins have carried a lead into the third and lost in overtime — three points frittered away that could prove to leave them short of the No. 1 seed.
After falling behind in the first on a Zacha power-play goal, the strikes by Bergeron (power play) and then Hall, about 10 minutes apart, had the Bruins in the 2-1 lead at the break.
Bergeron connected with the 1-1 equalizer at 4:36, snapping in a turnaround shot from the left circle after the puck trickled his way on a Pastrnak broken-stick slapper. It was Bergeron’s second goal in as many nights and the first by the club’s No. 1 power-play unit since April 6. Along with the need to close out games more efficiently, the Bruins will need to sharpen their man-advantage execution during the final four regular-season games.
Hall’s goal came off a Matt Grzelcyk shot, the ex-Devils winger ticking the puck by goalie Mackenzie Blackwood as he cut right-left across the crease. The Devils objected, claiming that Hall interfered with Blackwood, but the goal stood up to replay scrutiny.
It was Hall’s sixth goal since coming to the Bruins in the April 12 trade with Buffalo.
The first period was a tractor pull, in part because the Bruins kept seeing Black and Gold sweaters sent off to the penalty box, and in part because the officiating crew struggled with some basic calls.
The first goal belonged to the Devils, specifically to Zacha, who ripped home a one-time slapper with two Bruins (Connor Clifton, Charlie McAvoy) in the penalty box. The play began with a faceoff in the left circle, and it ended when Zacha unloaded on a smooth pass sent across the slot by Hughes.
It was the first time since April 25, a 1-0 loss at Pittsburgh, that the Bruins were working with a deficit. In the four games since that loss, the Bruins had amassed 153:57 in lead time, while the opposition logged 00:00.
The Bruins also lost center/wing Charlie Coyle, who departed after skating but one shift in the third period. Cassidy provided little detail.
“He’s getting looked at, so I don’t have any update,” said Cassidy. “I’ve got nothing yet. Hopefully he’s OK, but I haven’t heard.”