UNIONDALE, N.Y. — As late-season tests go, the Bruins were handed a gimme take-home exam with the answers in the back of the book here Tuesday night, easily rubbing out the Islanders, 5-0, in front of a sleepy, perhaps stunned crowd of 13,917 at Nassau Coliseum.
Sean Kuraly led the way with a pair of goals, helping the Bruins build a 3-0 lead through the first two periods. Tuukka Rask, who barely needed to put on the pads to withstand the tepid Isles attack, faced a season-low 13 shots in recording his fourth shutout this season.
Noel Acciari, Patrice Bergeron, and Jake DeBrusk all scored for the Bruins, who are now 44-20-9 and inching ever closer to clinching a playoff spot with nine games to go in the regular season. The Bruins have a 6-point lead over Toronto, their likely opponent in the opening round of the playoffs.
“In terms of possession and the worry meter for the coach . . . we never really got away from it,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, finding little to quibble with in his team’s performance. “You’re always concerned, did [the Islanders] just not have it tonight, or was it just us with great legs, great decision making? Probably a little bit of both, and I loved the way we played.”
The Islanders, who have based their renaissance this year on defense and gritty play, looked tired and listless from the start and landed only two shots on Rask in the first period. They also lost forwards Valtteri Filppula and Cal Clutterbuck to injury along the way on a night when five of their 18 skaters didn’t so much as attempt a shot at net (Bruins advantage, 68-31).
“The way we played, I guess it qualified as an easy game,” said Rask, who improved his mark to 25-10-5 on the season. “Our [defensemen] held their gap, denied entries . . . and we cleared bodies in front of the net, the little shots they had. I saw everything and we just kept the puck moving up the ice. Overall, a great effort.”
Kuraly (now eight goals on the season) got it going with only Boston’s second shot on net, 1:12 into the first. His legs forever churning, Kuraly twirled around in the right-wing circle and connected with a wrister that banged off the right post. It looked as if it should have been a routine save for Robin Lehner, but the shot, about a foot off the ice, nicked off his left pad and ricocheted in off the post.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” said Kuraly, asked if he was surprised the shot eluded Lehner. “You never know when they’re going to go in — I don’t have a ton of goals. So when they go in . . . a pleasant surprise, that’s for sure.”
Overall, the Isles were all but AFC East no-shows in the first and most of the second. Consider: The Bruins landed 14 of their 26 attempts on net; the Islanders put only two shots on Rask and attempted only eight shots total. At that point, 11 of the 18 Isles skaters didn’t even attempt a shot on net.
“No matter what the score was, we wanted to keep coming and keep playing hard,” said Kuraly. “I don’t think it mattered what the score ended up being. We were just going to play our game, get pucks behind them. They play tight in the neutral zone and we weren’t going to let them have a transition game.”
The Bruins added two more in the second and took a comfortable 3-0 lead into the third period. Through 40 minutes, the Islanders were outshot, 24-8, and it felt more like 50-8.
Acciari delivered the 2-0 lead only 2:52 into the second, taking advantage of a Keystone Kops-like giveaway by Clutterbuck deep in the Islander end. Seemingly in control of the puck as he skated backward in his own zone, Clutterbuck lost control of it and Acciari picked it up in stride. The finish was easy: backhand to forehand and quick slip through Lehner’s pads.
Kuraly potted his second of the night with 3:43 to go in the second, set up in the slot with a Danton Heinen feed. He was quick to snap off a 12-footer and the 3-0 lead was in the net. Bergeron and then DeBrusk, fresh out of the box on a breakaway, rounded out the scoring.
The second period began with a big man battle off the opening faceoff, with 6-foot-3-inch Matt Martin throwing down with 6-9 Zdeno Chara. They each landed a couple of good belts, but the match went to Chara, who finished the skirmish by dropping Martin to the ice. It appeared Martin was trying to get his squad into the game. But overall it proved a futile attempt. Nothing could put a charge into the Fish Sticks.
“I respect him,” a subdued Chara said. “He’s obviously been in the game a long time and he’s tough as nails. He is doing his job for his team. Obviously, a great job by him. He takes his job very seriously. He’s one of those guys I respect highly — it is not an easy job. He’s putting his name out there and doing whatever he can to help his team win. Good for him. Very tough. Very respected. I just wanted to give him that opportunity.”