The Bruins have their backs to the wall in their second-round playoff series against the Islanders after a 5-4 gut punch in Game 5 Monday that left them resoundingly frustrated with the officiating, deeply disappointed in their penalty kill, and uncertain about their goaltending situation at the worst possible time.
They now face an elimination game Wednesday in New York against a franchise looking to reach the playoff semifinals for the second straight year. After falling behind, two games to one, the Islanders pulled out back-to-back wins to take control of the series, and the Bruins have an obvious urgency to avoid seeing the curtain close on their season.
The Bruins know how difficult it will be to go on the road and force a Game 7, but they’re also aware of the challenge the Islanders will face in a close-out game.
“The fourth one is the hardest one to win,” said Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. “We’re going to New York to win a game, and that’s all that’s on our mind. We want to put our best foot forward and win a hockey game. That’s it. That’s all we’re thinking about right now is this thing isn’t over.”
Game 5 left the Bruins stewing over missed opportunities and what coach Bruce Cassidy perceived as missed calls. Bruins were sent to the box four times and the Islanders turned the penalties into three power-play goals. The Islanders were whistled for just two penalties.
That imbalance has been a serieslong frustration for Cassidy — that the Islanders have a “narrative” as “the New York Saints” that was leading to more favorable officiating. The Islanders have been whistled for 15 penalties throughout the series to the Bruins’ 19.
Cassidy also came to the defense of captain Patrice Bergeron, who was a focal point for officials after Game 4 when Islanders coach Barry Trotz complained that Bergeron was “cheating” on faceoffs. Bergeron was repeatedly tossed from the faceoff circle in Game 5.
With all that to manage, Cassidy also had to deal with goalie Tuukka Rask, who was pulled after the second period for health reasons. Rask hasn’t been at full strength all postseason. Rask’s status, along with a shorthanded blue line, only adds to the Bruins’ challenges.
Despite the drama and the health issues, the Bruins are confident. They’ve been the more aggressive team, outshooting the Islanders, 196-143, but they’ve spent more time in the penalty box, 42 minutes to 32.
“It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to let it go,” said right wing David Pastrnak. “The main focus is get ready for Game 6. I think we’ve been the better team, but just didn’t go our way today. So just let go and refocus.”
The Islanders, on the other hand, are trying to keep writing chapters in a storybook season. As a fourth seed, they stunned the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. They’re making their final playoff run at Nassau Coliseum, their first home in 1972. They closed out the Penguins at home in the first round and have a chance to do the same against the Bruins.
The odds are in the Islanders’ favor. Home teams are 104-66 in Game 6 close-out situations, according to hockey-reference.com.
“The last one is always the hardest one to get,” Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle said. “But we’re excited to go back to the Coliseum. You guys have seen it. It helps us. It gives us some juice.”
In three seasons under Trotz, the Islanders are 5-4 in close-out games. Their biggest challenge came last season in the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers when they had a 3-1 lead but needed seven games to finish the job.
“They know,” Trotz said. “They understand. They’ll be ready, Both teams will be ready. We’ve just got to focus on our next game and go from there. That’s all you can do.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.