Playoff hockey guarantees that nothing comes easy, even if the Bruins had started to make it look that way.
One bad mistake and one overtime breakaway brought an end to their era of good feeling Monday night, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders ending their five-game postseason winning streak and knotting their second-round playoff series at a game apiece.
From a strong first period when it seemed good feeling would hold, across an ugly second period when it seemed all hope was lost, through a resurgent third period when hope was rallied again, it was an overtime mistake by young defenseman Jeremy Lauzon that punctured the Bruins balloon for good.
Lauzon’s “ill-advised” (Bruce Cassidy’s description) cross-ice pass to nobody was picked off by Casey Cizikas and deposited at 14:48 of the OT into Tuukka Rask’s net, a mistake that brought another of playoff hockey’s truisms to life for the Bruins.
It’s not a series until the home team loses.
This is definitely a series now.
Of course it always was, no matter how dominant that 5-2 winning score from the opener appeared. Remember when Cassidy told us before the series opened that his Bruins would be “playing ourselves a little bit?” His prescience was proven yet again on Monday, another night to ride the hockey roller coaster, to travel the emotional waves as they careened from joy to agony to hope to fear, to watch two teams so evenly matched and so similarly motivated they fought until the final shift.
“I think both teams had their moments where they controlled the play. We had times where we were all over them and had good chances and they did the same, all over us and hemmed us in,” forward Brad Marchand said. “We’re both even teams. It’s going to be a tight series and we know that.”
It started so promisingly for the Bruins in the opening period, a period to make it seem as if the wave of heady emotion of Saturday night’s opener would never crest, that the energy of a Garden faithful lifted both themselves and their beloved team to a dominant night capped by the rink full of celebratory hats for David Pastrnak’s three-goal thriller.
This time it was local hero Charlie Coyle, Weymouth’s own, who pumped up the building early, his beautiful hop, skip and score only 2:38 into the game giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead that would hold all the way into the first intermission. How could the Bruins not be flying? Rask was looking sharp, his calm, collected self stretching and moving in all the right directions, his stick and glove blocking all that came his way.
Meanwhile, his counterpart Semyon Varlamov didn’t start out nearly as strong, and in getting the start in place of Game 1 rookie Ilya Sorokin and then giving up an early goal, the Bruins surely had to think they had him rattled. Even the television announcers made sure to note how an early goal seemed to shake Varlamov’s confidence in his two previous postseason losses.
But that never happened, and from that Bruins peak came a second-period valley, perhaps the deepest valley of the postseason so far. It was a period of disaster, three Islander goals flipping the momentum, one unlucky pinball bounce off Lauzon’s leg to tie the game and then two on the power play that finally saw the Islanders cash in on all the traffic they were creating in front of Rask’s net.
Suddenly, those good feelings were evaporating fast, a reminder that everything is fleeting in playoff hockey, with momentum perhaps the most fleeting of all. Gone was the comfort of those five straight playoff wins, those giddy conversations about the perfection line up top or the Charlie McAvoy emergence down deep, lost amid the frenetic pace and physical toll of a Game 2 whose tide was turning.
Yet it remained totally up for grabs.
How else do you explain the third period, when the Bruins rediscovered their identity, tying the game once again, and doing it, as usual, through that top line? There was Marchand setting Patrice Bergeron up to rally Boston’s hopes, a goal at 10:34 to bring the Bruins within one, and there he was again at 15:06 doing it on his own, tying the game with a beautiful slapshot just inside the far post.
“That’s our resiliency,” Coyle said. “There’s never any quit in here, especially in playoff time. … A couple bad breaks on a few of their goals, but that’s hockey. It’s how you respond. We got to respond now and get the next one. That’s all.”
Now it’s the Islanders’ turn to take their wave of home-crowd emotion and ride it for all it’s worth, and with Nassau Coliseum heading for the scrap heap of arenas, it’s bound to be loud and intense during this ongoing farewell tour. The Bruins have to bury this one fast and regroup for what will no doubt be a tough environment.
“We made a play that was ill-advised and they scored on a breakaway. That’s what I saw on the overtime goal,” Cassidy said. “We played well enough to win. Tough second period, but a good start to the game. Here we are, 1-1. They’re a good hockey club. Didn’t expect it to be easy. We’ve got to work on this and get ready for Game 3 up there.”
As Marchand promised, “We’ll bounce back. It’s 1-1. It’s all about how we regroup and move forward. That’s the thing about playoffs, you’ve got to be like an elephant, have a quick memory, and be ready to go the next day.”