Coincidentally or not, the Bruins’ miserable second period of Wednesday night’s Game 6 against the Islanders started with — you guessed it — a missed penalty call.
Fourteen seconds in, Islanders winger Kyle Palmieri felled Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy with a late elbow and shoulder to the chops behind the net. No call.
The cheap shot from the ex-Devil drew one of several “New York Saints” chants from a sarcastic crowd at Nassau Coliseum, the home fans leaning into Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s dig at the supposedly squeaky-clean Islanders.
“That was a tough one,” Cassidy said of the hit on McAvoy, who logged a game-high 25:21 with two shots, two hits, and two blocks. “That was a missed one there, obviously. And it happened to be against a guy we rely on to play big minutes. I don’t know if there was residual effect from that hit. He finished the game, but the spotters take him out. That hurt. It was a clear infraction that got missed after the play. We could have used him in that six minutes. Did it make a difference in the game? I can’t sit here and say it did.”
Pulled off by a concussion spotter, McAvoy went to the Bruins’ dressing room for some six minutes of action, during which Brock Nelson picked the pocket of McAvoy’s defense partner, Matt Grzelcyk, and scored at 5:20 to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
They didn’t add more to the lead while McAvoy was absent, but Palmieri poked the puck free from Grzelcyk in front, after Tuukka Rask allowed a rebound, and potted the 4-1 goal. McAvoy was out of that play, slow to get up, after he and Travis Zajac collided behind the net.
“In those situations,” Cassidy said, “you’ve got to rely on other people to step up and get the job done while he’s gone. That’s it. That’s playoff hockey.”
DeBrusk in lineup
Entering Game 6, the Islanders had been hammering away at the Bruins’ third and fourth lines. Jake DeBrusk wasn’t expected to solve that problem, but Cassidy hoped he’d be part of the solution.
DeBrusk, a healthy scratch in Game 5, rejoined the lineup as a replacement for the injured Curtis Lazar (lower body) in Game 6 but finished minus-2. The winger logged 11:22 in Game 4, second-lowest among Boston forwards. He slotted back on his natural left side, on a third line with Charlie Coyle and Karson Kuhlman.
Cassidy wasn’t challenging DeBrusk, who hasn’t scored since Game 2 of the first-round Washington series, to be a game-changer. He would like him to focus on his defensive details, like the misalignment along the boards that assisted Mathew Barzal in scoring the eventual winner in Game 4.
“The message is help us win,” Cassidy said. “Shift to shift, the puck might find him a lot, so that might involve scoring. It might never find him all night, but then he’s got to help keep the puck out of our net and do a good job backchecking and the defensive side of the puck. You play the game in front of you.”
Nick Ritchie, after a strong Game 5 with Coyle and Kuhlman, dropped to the fourth line. Sean Kuraly replaced Lazar in the middle. The Ritchie-Coyle-Kuhlman line, according to Natural Stat Trick, had the best underlying numbers — 13-3 in shot attempts, 9-2 in shots, and 0.47-0.04 in expected goals — of any Bruins trio in Game 5.
“Really good game offensively. Couldn’t quite finish,” was Cassidy’s review, noting that he might “toggle” his left wingers.
Overall, the results for the bottom six hadn’t been positive. As stout as Coyle had looked, no Bruins forward had been on the ice for more five-on-five goals against (seven) or shots against (37), even though Cassidy had avoided starting his line in the defensive zone (compared with the Kuraly-Lazar-Chris Wagner line, which started most of its shifts in the defensive zone).
DeBrusk entered Game 6 as one of three Spoked-B forwards (Lazar, Wagner) who had not been on the ice for a Bruins five-on-five goal this series.
Not good enough
After the Bruins had their worst penalty-killing performance of the season — 1 for 4 — in Game 5, Brad Marchand said they had a few screws to tighten. He didn’t reveal anything in his pregame Zoom session, but the return of Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo (both out with upper-body injuries) was not among the anticipated improvements.
“I think we just need to continue to play the way we have,” Marchand said. “We’ve been pretty good on the PK. We’ve just had a couple breakdowns.
“It seems like every time we miss a little detail out there, they capitalize on it. They have a lot of talent on their power play and they’re going to make plays.”
The Islanders, 20th in the NHL in power-play success in the regular season (18.8 percent), had more than doubled that rate this series. They entered Game 6 humming at a 6-for-15 clip (40 percent), and were 0 for 1 in the clincher.
The Bruins, second-best this season on the PK (86 percent), were hurting without Carlo and Miller, who missed their third and seventh games, respectively. Their absences had meant more hard minutes for McAvoy, and elevated roles for Jarred Tinordi, Jeremy Lauzon, and Connor Clifton.
McAvoy, whose 3:45 average shorthanded time on ice led all players still active in this postseason as of Wednesday, was on the ice for all three PPGs against in Game 5. Each goal came with a different one of the aforementioned three as his partner.
The Bruins allowed three PPGs one other time this year: against the Capitals on April 11, when they went 3 for 6. They gave up more than one PPG in five of 56 regular-season games, but have done so twice in five games against the Islanders.
No Norris for McAvoy
McAvoy was not named a finalist for the Norris Trophy, as revealed Wednesday. Adam Fox (Rangers), Victor Hedman (Lightning), and Cale Makar (Avalanche) were the three highest vote-getters for best defenseman, as tallied from the ballots of 100 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association … Taylor Hall did not participate in the morning skate but was in the lineup. He finished minus-2 and landed just one shot on net … The Islanders did not make any lineup changes … Cassidy said Carlo would not have played in Game 7 … Miller was skating, and “had an opportunity,” Cassidy said. “We’ll never know now. He was trending well.” … Marchand has nine goals in games where the Bruins could be eliminated. Only Peter McNab (nine) has as many. Milan Lucic, Cam Neely, and Rick Middleton have eight … The Islanders had 11 high-danger shot attempts, per Natural Stat Trick, tying the Bruins’ playoff high allowed.