UNIONDALE, N.Y — The late-night delirium enveloping Nassau Coliseum Saturday was not the party the Bruins wanted to attend, not as they eyed a rare two-game road sweep in this second-round playoff visit to New York. But as the clock ticked down on the Islanders 4-1 win in Game 4 for a series now tied at two games apiece, a delighted home crowd was more than happy to use their cheers to serenade the Bruins all the way back to Boston.
A delighted, nearly full home crowd, that is.
No, this was not the outcome the Bruins were looking for. But this was just the kind of night that sports fans have been looking for, a night sports fans, and maybe a few writers too, have been yearning for, a night to recall all that is wonderful about the people who bring real, live energy and passion to the arenas and stadiums we visit.
The home crowd was as much a factor in the Islanders win as anything Mathew Barzal did on skates or Matt Martin did with his fists, providing the level of madness, frenzy and energy that threatened to knock this building down before the real wrecking ball makes its already scheduled appointment.
It’s precisely the type of atmosphere that awaits the Bruins Monday night at TD Garden, the type of atmosphere that bathed the team so lovingly and so successfully back in their Game 1 dominant win, the type of atmosphere we as a sports adoring public missed so much during the pandemic. When you set that grateful return inside a hockey arena, and do it in the postseason, this much we can guarantee: Playoff hockey is going to deliver.
“Right now I’m very excited to go back and play in front of our fans again,” center David Krejci said postgame. “We’re definitely going to use their energy, and it’s Game 5. The playoffs are about making adjustments. We’ll do some adjustments and I’m sure they will as well. We’re going to have to play our best game of the season.”
The Bruins didn’t do that Saturday, a night that included giving up a 1-0 lead midway through the second period, surrendering three third-period goals (though two were empty netters) in a closing stretch that nearly blew the roof off the old Barn, watching David Pastrnak somehow miss a wide open net (and flopping face first on the ice in disbelief when he clanked it off the far post) or somehow let Barzal get an open swing at a puck to score the decisive go-ahead goal.
But that’s the way it goes in playoff hockey, when momentum is fleeting and drama is thick. And that’s the way it was always going to go in this particular series of playoff hockey, one that opened with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy talking about the mirror image on the other side of the ice. A Bruins-Islanders clash guarantees a night of fighting through a wall of humanity just to get a touch at the puck, of knowing a body or a board is always going to be in your way. Double that in the playoffs, when there is no shift to take it easy, no check to hold up, no ‘get-em-next-time’ to look forward to.
With that much at stake Saturday, why wouldn’t the Islanders use every advantage at their disposal, from the last-line-change advantage for matchups to the last second of play amid the cacophonous crowd. No wonder they came back on the ice for a stick tap to the fans.
“They’re down, 2-1, they’re at home, all of a sudden you don’t get this one and you’re going on the road down two games. We expected their best identity game,” Cassidy said. “Physicality, defense, clogging up the neutral zone, outdefend us, outweigh us, and take their opportunities. I thought we were patient. Going into the third it was 1-1. We were OK. I thought we responded well early with physicality. We dropped our mitts.”
In that environment, the Bruins had little choice. The doors finally reopened and a game straight out of the 1970s walked in, fisticuffs and feistiness going hand in hand on the ice, madness and mayhem going on in the stands. Whether it was old-time Islander Clark Gillies crushing a beer can on his head or movie-turned-Netflix star Ralph Macchio exhorting the crowd with his Karate Kid moves, the night never let up.
You knew the night was going to be different when Taylor Hall was the first to drop his gloves. Hall hadn’t been in an NHL fight since his rookie season 10 years ago, but here, early in the pivotal game, he was out to set the tone, going punch for punch with hulking Scott Mayfield. Later, it was Bruins’ big man Jarred Tinordi throwing (and absorbing) haymakers with Islander bruiser Matt Martin. And in between, it was just about everybody else, some of it warranted (like the blatant missed crosschecks on David Krejci that finally saw him retaliate with a stick to the groin of Barzal and thus take a trip to the penalty box) and some of it just a reflection of the night.
There was action, and pace, and energy, and passion. All there were people. Thank goodness for the people. People rising from their seats in unison to cheer or to boo, people joining their voices to chant ‘Tuuukkkaaa’ in the derisive way only an opposing crowd can, people to wave their ugly orange towels in cyclones of hope, people to slowly breathe the oxygen back into the world we missed so much.
When all of it was spent, and the teams made it back to their respective locker rooms, ice baths and massage specialists awaited. Any other time of the year and players might have wished for a week off. But there is no such respite. Playoff hockey is not for the weak.
But it is, once again, as were so loudly reminded Saturday night, for the people. See you at the Garden, Bruins fans. Your turn to make yourself heard.
- Islanders win a rough-and-tumble game to tie up series with Bruins at two games apiece
- Puck movement was lacking with back-line losses, and other observations from a worrying Game 4
- Jarred Tinordi steps in for injured Brandon Carlo to provide a presence on the blue line
- Taylor Hall has come a long way from the player who lacked confidence when acquired
- Odds are not in favor of a team that pulls goalie for extra skater, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy says why not try it?