Stuck in a rut and facing a team bent on grinding them into dust, the Bruins found a bit of magic late at TD Garden.
Just not enough muscle or puck luck.
A 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders was the seventh setback in eight games for the Bruins (21-7-8), in a matchup of the second- and third-best teams in the East.
Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal scored shootout goals for the visitors (23-8-2), who pulled to within two points of Boston in the conference standings.
Down, 2-0, in the skills competition, David Pastrnak’s left-to-right dangle on netminder Semyon Varlamov gave the Bruins life, and Tuukka Rask (19 saves) stopped Josh Bailey at the other end. But with the crowd hushed in anticipation, Brad Marchand couldn’t shimmy and shake his way to a tying goal.
Make no mistake: the Bruins are miserable in shootouts. They have the league’s worst record in them (0-5), sixth-worst shooting percentage (15.8), and seventh-worst save percentage (.556). But end-of-game gimmickry isn’t the most pressing concern for Bruce Cassidy. It’s the 60 to 65 minutes before, when his club isn’t pushing hard enough for his liking.
“You can draw up all the systems you want, but when you win your races and your puck battles and you’re willing to go to win the slot battle,” Cassidy said, “you’re going to be a successful team. We didn’t do enough of that in the first and second period, tried to address it at the start of the third and we were good.”
But the Bruins, who have lost four in a row at home for the first time since October 2015, will take a 1-4-3 record in their last eight into Saturday’s game against the Predators. This year, they have treated their fans to seven overtime or shootout losses at the newly refurbished Garden. It’s enough to make them squirm in those too-tight seats.
Torey Krug’s one-timer made ’em happy, the diminutive defenseman’s blast tying the score at 7:24 of the third period, in a game where scoring chances were few.
The Bruins, 5 for 35 on the power play this month, had a 5 on 3 for 1 minute, 16 seconds after Islanders center Brock Nelson fired a clearing attempt out of play at 7:16 of the third. They took advantage of the break, needing all of seven seconds to tie the score. David Krejci put it on a tee, and Krug stepped into a slapper at the top of the circle.
That was some of the most effective offense for the Bruins, who finished 1 for 5 on the man-advantage. On the power play, they fed Patrice Bergeron in the bumper early, and nearly got a back-door play to Danton Heinen, but to no avail. They outshot the Isles, 29-21, after reaching Varlamov with 10 shots on 33 attempts through two periods.
“They don’t give you much,” Krug said of the pack-it-in Islanders, who allowed a season-high eight goals to Nashville on Tuesday, but have given up an NHL-low 82 overall. “We feel we could have given a little bit more.”
They defended well, matching the Islanders in shots allowed (10) through two periods. But they left open Barzal at the side of the net for a goal that made it 2-1 with 1:34 left in the second. They also let defenseman Nick Leddy roam free up the ice before Johnny Boychuk beat ex-teammate Rask with a slapper through traffic at 3:26 of the second.
“A goal we’ve given up too much lately,” said a peeved Cassidy, who watched Jaroslav Halak allow a 58-footer in Florida last Saturday, and Rask surrender game-tying 60-footer against Los Angeles on Tuesday. He didn’t completely fault his goalies for either. His team blocked nine of the Isles’ 45 attempts, and didn’t make it easy for Rask to see.
“Some of it’s boxing out, some of it’s on our forwards to get in the damn shooting lane,” Cassidy said.
“I mean, this is part of our makeup of our team, and there’s certain players we expect that from. I don’t think there’s been enough of that, to be honest with you. You talk about urgency, to keep it out of our net. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m going to wait for May to do that.’ It’s who you are, it’s in your DNA. We’ve got to get back to being who we are.”
Rask, coming off a poor night against the Kings on Tuesday, did more than enough to keep the Bruins afloat. His stop on Anders Lee in overtime was fodder for anyone’s highlight reel. But the save of the night belonged to Varlamov (27 stops), who snatched Bjork’s one-timer out of midair with a diving glove stop, keeping it tied with 3:33 left in regulation.
The third-year winger got the Bruins started with a laser upstairs, off a Charlie Coyle-created turnover. His goal, 1:58 into the game, broke an 11-game scoring drought.
His teammates are showing him “swagger,” he said, despite the recent funk.
“There’s some great hockey minds in this dressing room here,” Bjork said. “They have true, real confidence. You can tell. I don’t sense any nerves, even when we’re down. We know we’re going to come back into it. We can. We’re close here.”
More scenes from the game
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