The Bruins and Islanders paired up in an old-school playoff grinder Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, and the Islanders prevailed, 4-1, in large part because they continually took away time and space, wore down the Bruins in all zones, and pulled away with three goals in the third period — albeit two were into an empty net.
The stiff, stubborn Islanders game was fully anticipated by the Bruins, particularly with the Black-and-Gold vulnerable on the backend without Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller. Absent key blueline personnel, the Bruins could not move the puck fluidly out of their end and advance it through the neutral zone as they did earlier in the series.
The key for Game 5 on Monday night at the Garden, with the series at 2-2, will be to buy more room via more favorable line matches. The return of Carlo and/or Miller would provide a big boost, but there’s no knowing now if either will be fit for action.
“We expected their best identity game, which would be physicality,” noted Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, “defense . . . clog up the neutral zone the best they could . . . try to out defend us and outweight [sic] us and take advantage of opportunities.”
Et voila. The Bruins couldn’t manage better than a one-goal lead, blowing a key chance to bump it to 2-0 in the second, and the Islanders pulled out the win with their trademark jaws-of-life approach. Along with a nifty tip by Mathew Barzal for the winner.
“I don’t think we were nearly at our best game,” said Cassidy, frustrated by his club’s play at both ends, focusing on some shoddy D coverage and lack of possession and execution in the attack zone. “I think we responded well early with the physicality, dropped our mitts when we had to, matched them hit for hit.
“We just didn’t have our best game executing. Through the neutral zone, for whatever reason, our D had a tough time moving their feet. There were some things that we just didn’t do that we did in the first three games to generate offense. Obviously, credit the Islanders. But for us, when you do it for three straight games . . . why? . . . Were we antsy about executing? Did we not have the energy?”
Other observations from the game:
⋅ The Bruins blew a prime chance in the second period to take a commanding lead in the series, and perhaps put it away, when they sputtered badly on a power play granted them after taking the 1-0 lead on David Krejci’s goal at 3:57.
The Isles challenged the Krejci strike, and lost on the video appeal, setting up the Bruins with the two-minute advantage. Great opportunity to take a 2-0 lead and then try to suffocate the Isles with their own relentless forechecking game.
Instead, the Bruins went dormant, didn’t manage a single shot, and then watched Kyle Palmieri pot the equalizer only 41 seconds after the PP went DOA. Tough swing.
⋅ Rare to see David Pastrnak, one of the game’s premier sharpshooters, shank a shot. But with the entire net wide open, he snapped off a Patrice Bergeron feed at 16:58 of the first and watched it clang off the bottom of the right post.
“When’s the last time he missed one like that?!’ said NBC analyst Joe Micheletti. “Maybe never, with those hands.”
Pastrnak stayed face down on the ice for a few seconds, as much in disbelief as anyone.
⋅ Taylor Hall, scorer, back-checker and . . . punch-thrower. The new Bruins left winger tangled with Isles tallboy Scott Mayfield at 7:28 of the first and got in a pop or two before the two tumbled to the ice. Mayfield (6-feet-5-inches, 220 lbs.) appeared to be shaking his right hand in pain as he made his way to the ice.
The Isles clearly came into the night wanting to set the physical town. “Dragged into the fight,” as Cassidy said in the morning, expecting a rugged night of action.
Hall hadn’t fought since a brief AHL stint with the 2012-13 Oklahoma City Barons. He’s not that kind of player, anyway, but it could be argued he hasn’t been on NHL teams worth fighting for the length of his career.
⋅ The Bruins held a 11-7 shot edge in the opening 20 minutes, fair indication they weren’t backing away from physical play even without Carlo and Miller. They put only 10 pucks on net in the second, indication that the Isles were pressing them in their own end. Over the final 40:00, the Brins were outshot, 27-18.
⋅ With about 6:30 gone in the first, hobbled Matt Grzelcyk, possibly with a hamstring issue, made his way to the Boston bench. He looked fine for the rest of the period, playing 7:28 across 10 shifts. A relief for the Bruins bench. Grzelyck has become the glue guy on the back end.
With Carlo and Miller hors de combat, the Bruins are going nowhere if they lose Grzelcyk.
⋅ Jarred Tinordi, a guy who plays “true to his game” in Cassidy’s words, fought with Isles tough guy Matt Martin in the first. “True to his game” is code for: Narrow skill set.
Part of that skill set is throwing down when necessary and Tinordi responded precisely as needed with the Martin bout.
⋅ Tuukka Rask made his best stop of the first period at the 14:56 mark when Anthony Beauvillier was granted free sailing across the Boston crease. Weak tea defense by the Black and Gold. But Rask tracked Beauvillier, who cut left-right and tried to slide a backhander inside the right post. Rask stoned him for his sixth stop of the night.
Rask made another dandy stop midway through the second, rejecting Josh Bailey’s 10-foot sweep in the slot, keeping it even at 1-1.
⋅ Krejci was initially whistled off for a five-minute major at 11:16 of the second for his backhand pitchfork into Barzal’s groin. The officials reviewed it, and correctly reduced it to a two-minute slash. Barzal acted as if he’d never walk again, until he miraculously recovered and logged some power-play time with Krejci in the box.
Reminiscent of the days of Real Cloutier in Quebec City. The Nords winger often dropped like road kill, only to get out for the PP that his acting teased out of the ref.
⋅ The one shot to beat Rask the first 40 minutes came off Barzal’s perfect feed from the rear wall to a wide open Palmieri at the doorstep. Grzelcyk followed Barzal to the back and Jeremy Lauzon was picking ice dandelions near the left post. Free passage for the alert, opportunistic Palmieri.
- Islanders win a rough-and-tumble game to tie up series with Bruins at two games apiece
- Jarred Tinordi steps in for injured Brandon Carlo to provide a presence on the blue line
- A nearly full house was an inspiring sight for all sports fans
- Odds are not in favor of a team that pulls goalie for extra skater, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy says why not try it?
- Taylor Hall has come a long way from the player who lacked confidence when acquired
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.