When the Bruins look back on Wednesday’s second-period collapse in Game 6 against the New York Islanders - that ultimately crushed their hopes of making a deeper postseason run — they’ll have to stare down the reality that they were undone by their own carelessness.
With little margin for error in an elimination game on the road, the Bruins dug their own grave and practically handed the Islanders the shovel.
“Let’s face it,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, his candor overpowering the disappointment of a 6-2 loss that ended his team’s season long before they expected. “We mismanaged pucks.”
The Bruins still had life in the second period, tied at 1, trying to force a Game 7. But with three goals in 11 minutes, the Islanders seized every opportunity the Bruins gave them to yank the plug.
It started coming apart at the seams at the 5:20 mark when Matt Grzelcyk had a puck plucked from him by Islanders center Brock Nelson in the neutral zone. Grzelcyk barely had a chance to get control of the puck before Nelson took it off his stick and stormed the other way toward the Bruins net. Nelson had time and space to slip a quick shot past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
“You don’t want to call them gifts, but that was on us to manage the puck better in those situations,” Cassidy said.
Nelson wasn’t done doing damage. At the 12:39 mark, Nelson was hanging around the net when Rask left to corral a puck along the boards and give it to defenseman Mike Reilly. Rask’s pass ricochetted hard off Reilly’s stick and bounced right to Islanders center Josh Bailey. As Rask scrambled to get back, Bailey fired a pass to Nelson, who sneaked another shot past Rask before the goalie could turn completely around. That gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead and opened the floodgates.
“It just ended up bouncing right before him and now it was, like, we call it a grenade,” Rask said of his pass. “I mean, I don’t know. I could have made a better pass. We’ll check the tape. Maybe that would have made a difference. But it’s just one of those bounces that I couldn’t get reset and the guy scores. Tough play.”
At that point, the Islanders could sense the chance to slam the door on the series just as the Bruins could sense it slipping away. At the 16:07 mark, Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech let loose a shot from the point that Rask was able to stop with his pads but couldn’t hang onto. Grzelcyk was there for the rebound, but before he could gain control, Kyle Palmieri charged in and punched it past Rask to push the Islanders’ lead to 4-1.
“Grizz, I think kind of tried to get a hold of it, corral it,” Cassidy said. “He didn’t and Palmieri’s right there. I think in those situations we were there with our check, we just didn’t, again, manage the puck from the rebound or control the rebound — or both.
“So in that regard, credit to them for getting it there. That’s one thing their D does very well, they get their shots through from the point on a regular basis and that’s been an Achilles’ heel for us all year.”
Throughout the series, the Islanders dominated second periods. They scored 22 goals over six games and 12 of them came in the middle frame. The Bruins scored just three.
“They’ve been a good second-period team throughout the playoffs,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy tipped his cap to the Islanders forecheck for making things difficult all series. When the Islanders made game-shifting plays, it was hard for the Bruins to regain their composure.
“I just think the momentum is, when you forecheck well and then in in the second period, it’s tough to turn the tide,” Cassidy said. “You need your timeouts to reset and that’s what happens to teams in the second period. Once you get behind in the territory game, it’s hard to catch up. For us, at times we did, at times we didn’t.”
The Islanders may have buried the Bruins in the second period, but Cassidy said the mistakes the Bruins made would have doomed them regardless of when they occurred.
“I don’t think the period mattered in this instance tonight, quite honest with you,” Cassidy said. “It was just us not managing the puck well enough to beat a team that pressures the puck well.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.