Bruce Cassidy spent the morning sorting through test results. Some players, he said, had invalid tests and needed to rerun them. When the Bruins landed in New York, they found out Oskar Steen, who had been called up in an emergency after Patrice Bergeron went into COVID-19 protocol, would be added to the list.
The Bruins took to the ice with just 17 skaters.
“I was assuming we’re playing all along, even with being down one guy,” Cassidy said. “My guess is if there was a few more positives then that option probably would have been on the table. But to my knowledge it wasn’t on the table. We’re here to play.”
The frustration of playing short-handed was already at the forefront as COVID-19 once again ripped through the league and the Bruins locker room.
But the Bruins locker room still had pent up regret from two weeks ago that needed to be addressed.
Before Patrice Bergeron entered the NHL’s COVID protocols on Wednesday, he was sporting a fishbowl on the ice because of a broken nose he suffered after taking a hit from the Nashville Predators’ Filip Forsberg. Trent Frederic made it clear that the Bruins needed to do a better job of protecting their stars.
Frederic was among seven players out Thursday night as the Bruins started a three-game road trip with a 3-1 loss against the Islanders in New York. But when David Pastrnak took a knock in the back along the boards from Matt Martin, Nick Foligno immediately made Martin pay after the next face off.
Foligno dropped gloves and threw hands. And even though the Bruins were in a 2-0 hole they’d never climb out of, by bringing the fight, they checked off an item that had been on their to-do list.
The Bruins dropped their second straight game, this time to an Islanders team that had lost 13 of their last 15.
They came out of the lost uncertain about what COVID-19 will bring next but satisfied with the effort they brought under the circumstances.
“I’m always proud of this group,” Foligno said. “It’s the Bruin way. There’s no quit in this team. Even with everything we faced the past 24 hours, it’s been a nightmare to be honest with you. But we found a way to come in here and just work. something we can control.”
As “testing issues” turned into three confirmed cases at the start of the week, then three cases turned into seven by Thursday night, Cassidy tried to send a message to his team that losing key players to COVID meant opportunities would open up to others.
But losing Brad Marchand, Craig Smith, Bergeron, Anton Blidh, Frederic, Jeremy Swayman and Steen to NHL protocols left the Bruins with holes up and down their lines.
While the Bruins had plenty of punch, outshooting the Islanders, 31-28, offense was hard to come by. Pastrnak went 0 for 7. Taylor Hall went 0 for 6. Matt Grzelcyk went 0 for 3.
“I thought some guys played real hard tonight and gave us everything they had,” Foligno said. “It’s unfortunate we just didn’t get the bounces. I thought we actually generated a lot of good chances. We just couldn’t get past [Islanders goalie] Seymon Varlamov. Give them credit but the more opportunities and more chances and more efforts like that are going to result in wins.”
Without Marchand and Smith on Tuesday, the Bruins fell in a 3-0 hole to Vegas and never recovered. They found themselves facing another early deficit against the Islanders.
Right winger Cal Clutterbuck got the Islanders on the board in the first period, pouncing on a loose puck in front of the Bruins net and punching it past Linus Ullmark to put New York up, 1-0.
Anthony Beauvillier stretched the lead in the second period with a power-play goal on a slap shot from the left circle.
Still trailing midway through the third, Connor Clifton leveled Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Beauvillier tried to come to Pageau’s defense, but officials broke it up before anything else could happen.
Clutterbuck added an empty net goal at the 17:43 mark.
The Bruins went 0 for 3 on the power play. It wasn’t until Mike Reilly found the net at the 19:06 mark that the Bruins were able to avoid being shut out.
The Bruins without Marchand and Bergeron are clearly a different team. Since 2010-11, the Bruins are 0-5-0 without them, getting outscored 17-8.
But as the Bruins continues to navigate the unknown once again, Foligno said they will continue to be a team that fights.
“I don’t think we’re a team that makes excuses,” Foligno said. “We got a chance to grow and play. We’re going to do that. I think the guys that are sitting out right now would be licking their chops to get in there and play even if it was 17 guys.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.