The Bruins began, and ended, Game 5 with the fury of a team on the brink of elimination.
But after a Monday night full of missed calls, missed assignments and missed opportunities, that’s where they are.
They scored two goals in the third, but not the three they needed, and dropped a 5-4 decision to the Islanders at TD Garden. Their season could end Wednesday on Long Island.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, who ripped into referees Francis Charron and Francois St. Laurent for buying the Islanders’ “narrative” that they deserve more power plays, had more issues than the officiating.
He lifted Tuukka Rask, who has been dealing with a lower back strain, after the starting netminder allowed four goals on 16 shots in the first two periods. The penalty kill, No. 2 in the NHL during the regular season and missing a few key pieces, surrendered three goals on four chances. In a series this tight, a few failed clears and flubbed checks typically lead to disaster.
“The PK let us down,” Cassidy said, later adding, “from the blue line back, it wasn’t our best.”
Cassidy’s postgame comments about the officiating will create headlines, and may lighten his wallet. After giving the officials props for their proficiency, and the Islanders for their “respected” coaching staff, he sarcastically called them the New York “Saints,” for the way they embellish and profess their innocence.
“They sell a narrative over there,” Cassidy said. “It’s more like the New York Saints, not the New York Islanders. . . . The exact calls that are getting called on us do not get called on them.
“Maybe we need to sell them more, flop, but that’s not us. You just hope they’d see them.
“(The Islanders) have done a great job selling that narrative, that they’re clean . . . they commit as many infractions as we do.”
Charron and St. Laurent, he said, “were off,” Cassidy added. “You could say the same about us.”
Sure could. But not at the start, and not at the end.
After Rask took a seat on the bench, rookie Jeremy Swayman, the 22-year-old first-year pro, got his first taste of playoff action. He allowed a goal on his third shot against. The Bruins circled the wagons. After that 5-2 goal, by Brock Nelson at 1:59 of the third, the Bruins didn’t allow a shot on goal the rest of the way. They wound up outshooting the Islanders, 44-19.
David Pastrnak cut the lead to two with a ripper of a slapshot, at 3:48 of the third. The Bruins gained momentum from their first successful penalty kill of the evening, after Patrice Bergeron dumped the puck over the glass, and pulled within one with 5:17 left in regulation. David Krejci followed a Craig Smith shot, his putback trickling over the line to make it 5-4.
With Swayman off for most of the final two minutes and the home crowd on fire, they weren’t able to break through. They had one shot on goal in the final four minutes, with 3.9 seconds left.
“Wish we’d have five, 10 more minutes to tie it,” said Pastrnak, who also opened the scoring 1:25 into the game, hammering a far-side slapper past Semyon Varlamov (40 saves). “It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to let it go and get ready for Game 6. We’ve been the better team. Just didn’t go our way today. Just let it go and refocus.”
Pastrnak’s initial strike erased the memory of his missed open net in Game 4, and keyed a ferocious, no-passengers start. The Bruins dominated the opening period, firing 25 pucks at Varlamov and landing 11 on goal. The Bergeron line had nine shot attempts and allowed one in the first. Marchand even threw a crunching hip check on Adam Pelech.
Yet for all the Bruins’ hard work, they left for intermission squared up, 1-1. On the penalty kill, the Bruins gave Mathew Barzal too much space, the red-hot Islanders star walking in off the right wall and sniping one near-side over Rask’s glove with 1:11 remaining in the first.
The Islanders benefited from a bit of a makeup call there, Sean Kuraly whistled off for some light stickwork on Noah Dobson minutes after Scott Mayfield screamed at the men in stripes for a non-called forearm on Nick Ritchie.
The Islanders pulled ahead with three PPGs, their man advantage using just four shots on goal. They went up 2-1 after Kyle Palmieri slipped free from Connor Clifton, who had a pass clank off both of his skates.
At 7:27 of the second, Marchand tied the game, 2-2, with a spectacular effort, dragging the puck around Ryan Pulock, cutting back across the crease and slipping it around Varlamov’s pad.
But the resilient visitors went up 3-2, counterattacking after several minutes of Bruins pressure. Mike Reilly left Josh Bailey alone in front, and he deposited the puck upstairs at 14:30 of the second.
As the home fans hollered about missed high sticks against the B’s, the Islanders took a two-goal lead at 16:38 when Jarred Tinordi broke his stick on the PK, allowing Barzal to feed Jordan Eberle for a corner-picking.
The game wasn’t finished then. To hear the Bruins tell it, neither is the series.
“Fourth one is the hardest one to win,” Charlie McAvoy said. “This thing isn’t over.”