The on-ice battles have been more than postseason-worthy, with all five of these Bruins-Islanders second-round playoff games filled with scintillating end-to-end action. But now, in the wake of the Bruins’ disappointing 5-4 loss Monday night at TD Garden, a Game 5 clunker that puts them in a 3-2 deficit and facing elimination Wednesday night in New York, the battle has made its way off the ice.
Welcome to the war of words, or in this case, the war on officiating.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy made it abundantly clear he wasn’t pleased with how the calls went in Monday night’s game, a game that saw the Islanders score on their first three power-play chances, a game that saw the Bruins whistled for twice as many penalty minutes as the visitors, a night that came after a day in which Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had put his own bug in the officials’ ears.
Only hours after Trotz publicly called out Bruins’ captain Patrice Bergeron for “cheating” on his faceoffs by not getting his stick down properly, Cassidy fired back at Trotz, saying he sells ”a narrative over there that they’re more like the New York Saints, not the New York Islanders.”
In other words, Trotz’s NHL résumé, which includes leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup a few seasons ago, alongside general manager Lou Lamoriello’s three Stanley Cups with the Devils, adds up to just enough weight to tip the officiating scales in the Islanders favor.
“This is my take,” Cassidy said when asked directly about the officiating after the loss.
“We’re playing a team that has very respected management and coaching staff, they’ve won a Stanley Cup. I think they sell a narrative over there that they’re more like the New York Saints, not the New York Islanders, that they play hard and they play the right way. I feel we’re the same way and the exact calls that get called on us don’t get called on them. And I don’t know why.”
Cassidy was far from finished.
“These are very good officials,” he said. “They’re at this point in the season for a reason. You’ve got continuous high sticks every game. Exact same high sticks. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] with [Brock] Nelson behind the net. One that comes up on [Craig] Smith. [Brad Marchand] was called for that in Game 1. I could go on and on.”
And so he did.
“[Chris] Wagner the other day in front of the net. Maybe we need to sell them more, flop. But that’s not us. You just hope they’d see them. The same calls go against us so it’s not like I’m sitting here going, ‘Every call against us sucks.’ It’s not true. It’s just, at the end of the day, the similar calls, they need to be penalized on those plays. I think they’ve done a great job selling that narrative that they’re clean.”
Trotz, who lobbed the first volley earlier in the day, played innocent in the aftermath of his team’s gutty win, one that saw the Islanders survive being outshot by the Bruins, 44-19, withstand the Bruins’ furious third-period comeback attempt, and benefit from a stellar, stand-on-his head performance by Semyon Varlamov (as well as the flipside injury departure of counterpart Tuukka Rask for the third period.)
“You’ll have to ask him about that,” Trotz said by way of reacting to Cassidy’s ‘Saints’ comment. “I know this, just look at where we wound up at the end of the year, one of the least penalized teams in the league. I don’t know what he means by that. You’ll have to ask him.”
Cassidy was pretty clear in what he meant, and it makes sense. This is one of the ways a coach can stand up for his players in public, by saying things players cannot, risk a fine or public backlash in ways that would be more of a distraction were they to originate inside the locker room. But take this to the bank: There’s no way the Bruins aren’t feeling precisely what Cassidy is saying out loud, and they will appreciate him putting voice to their frustration.
David Pastrnak, who broke out after missing an empty net Saturday night in New York by scoring two goals Monday, came the closest to outright agreeing with his coach.
“I think in the first period they’ve been letting it go both ways and then in the second period I think there was some calls that were made, which is absolutely fine if it’s going to go both ways,” Pastrnak said. “Obviously it didn’t feel like we were getting the same calls, easy hooks and high sticks, called our way, they didn’t [call them]. That’s pretty much all I can say. Don’t want to get much deeper than that.
“But obviously if you’re going to call those, call it both ways.”
And away we go. Game 6 can’t get here fast enough. Drama off the ice and on it too, because as Charlie McAvoy so accurately put it, “The fourth one is the hardest one to win. We’re going to New York to win a game, that’s all we’re thinking about. This thing isn’t over.”
This conversation isn’t over either. From the passionate postgame defense Cassidy gave of Bergeron, whose predictable expulsion from his first handful of faceoffs prompted the exasperated coach to say, “Have a little respect for Bergy,” to his concluding thoughts about the next game, on it goes.
“Just be better than that,” he said. “Let’s just play hockey and call the infractions as they happen and see where it goes.”
- In the name of gamesmanship, Islanders coach Barry Trotz picked unlikely target in Patrice Bergeron to label as a cheater