It could have been the back-to-back games. Or the travel from Toronto. Or just a relapse into the lack of discipline that's plagued them the last few years. Or the difference between a contender and a construction project.
Whatever you want ascribe it to, the New York Islanders got sloppy in the third period Friday night against the Boston Bruins and let a tie game get away with a pair of goals from Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
NECK AND NECK
Hopes probably weren't high among Islanders fans going into the game, so the first 40 minutes had to be seen as a positive.
The Islanders gave the Bruins their customary gift of a goal in the first minutes of the game when Shawn Thornton backhanded a rebound past Rick DiPietro for the 1-0 lead. The Bruins had the edge early, including Milan Lucic scoring a TKO on fellow heavyweight Matt Carkner.
But the Islanders composed themselves and Keith Aucoin, who is quickly rocketing up the Long Island folk hero charts, redirected a Colin McDonald pass to tie it. A Bruins powerplay, the result of an unsportsmanlike staredown between Matt Martin and Thornton after a Daniel Paille hit on Brian Strait shifted the momentum to Boston for the remainder of the first. A late penalty on Chris Kelly gave the Islanders a 1:40 man advantage to start the second.
The Islanders used the power play time to establish control in the middle period and would take a 2-1 lead when Aucoin struck again about halfway through. McDonald's forechecking popped the puck out to the slot allowing Aucoin to swoop in and hammer it on net and over Rask's left shoulder.
With the Islanders controlling play for long stretches, the antsy TD Garden crowd started giving it to the Bruins. Even when Boston tied the game on Gregory Campbell's redirect of a lucky bounce off the stick of the Islanders' Joe Finley, the tide was still going in New York's favor. The Islanders came right back after the goal and pressed immediately, even getting a Grabner shorthanded breakaway that was disrupted by Chara's stick. But the Bruins came on late in the period and a couple of huge in-close saves by DiPietro kept the score even.
THE WHEELS COME OFF
The Islanders never had control in the third period, starting sloppy and letting Boston set the tempo. The eventual game-winner was a Chara wrister through an airtight David Krejci screen. The Islanders never really recovered and spent most of the remaining time chasing Bruins.
The clincher came off a total offensive zone breakdown for the Islanders. With Carkner pinching deep for some reason, the puck kicked around to Dougie Hamilton who found Brad Marchand who sprung Bergeron on the breakaway. The shifty Bergeron deked DiPietro out of his shorts to seal the game.
The Islanders had one last gasp courtesy of John Tavares snaking his way through traffic and getting a few shots off and Kyle Okposo just missing an open side from a weird angle. But with their net empty, the Islanders couldn't control the puck long enough to mount an organized attack.
THE OFT-INJURED ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
So, how was DiPietro's first NHL game in over a year? Personally, I give him a solid B-minus. He was good, certainly better than expected, and of the goals he gave up, only Thornton's opener probably could have been prevented. Campbell got basically a neat touch pass from DiPietro's own defenseman Finley and scored unmolested. Chara's winner was scored with Krejci's and Mark Streit's asses blocking DiPietro's entire field of vision. And Bergeron, alone on a breakaway, dangled the whole building into a daze.
The best news for Rick: he made it out of the game without getting hurt.
The focus with DiPietro is always on the injuries which makes us forget how he actually tends goal. His style hasn't changed, which means every save and stickhandle is an adventure. He caused an icing on his own when a breakout pass to Okposo sailed into the Bruins' zone. A scramble at the end of the second period got pretty hairy and he made two big saves on Krejci and Paille right on his doorstep that I still can't explain. That wild, reactionary 1990's style isn't enjoyed by everyone (including myself and my weak heart), but it didn't cost the Islanders against the Bruins.
In his post-game remarks, DiPietro looked pretty pissed at the loss, which is also good. He certainly like the only Islander with a full tank of gas, which makes sense considering he was the back-up last night in Toronto.
There's no need to anoint him the starter or throw him a parade, but the results were pleasantly surprising.
NOTES N' STUFF
- The Islanders and Bruins are the only two NHL teams that have not surrendered a power play goal yet this season.
- Aucoin has been a surprising offensive contributor. But better still, he's a forechecking machine and has been great at giving the Islanders quality time in the offensive zone. In either case, it's been a joy to watch so far.
- Finley is the early front runner for the Islanders' "Milan Jurcina Award" for the "Player Who Redirects the Most Pucks Towards His Own Net." First, the puck bounces off Finley's stick and right to Campbell for the Bruins' second goal. And later, an Andrew Ference shot hit off of Finley's stick and into the post behind DiPietro.
- Posts were the theme of the third period. In addition to Ference's, a Nathan Horton slapshot had DiPietro beat dead to rights but the puck rang off the far post. And with the net empty, the Bruins engaged in a farcical version of the All Star Game target shootout. Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuck and Chara all had shots at the Islanders' unguarded cage and all missed.
- I listened to the first period on NHL GameCenter radio on my phone. The WHRU broadcast was unavailable, so I had to hear the Boston feed. I'm happy to report that the radio guys are the exact opposite of the Bruins' hyperbolic TV play-by-play man Jack Edwards. They were even-keeled and actually very complimentary and respectful to the Islanders. Maybe it was because the color analyst is former Islander Bob Beers. But I was highly impressed and will listen again.
- You can stuff your small sample sizes in a sack, mister: Brian Strait's a keeper. Played very steadily all night and has a knack for simply following an opposing player into the Islanders zone, quietly taking the puck away, resetting himself and getting the puck up ice. You know, like a defenseman.
- Brad Marchand had a real quiet game. He had an assist, but compared to the super villain we see every year in the playoffs, he was invisible. He had a short appearance in the third before Bergeron's goal, but that was the only time we heard his name all night.
- Dougie Hamilton was not invisible.
ThreeTwo assists for the kid. Commence draft hindsight.
DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT.
Staple's take from Newsday.
Hornick's Skinny with the stats.
Islanders' website recap.
And, of course, here's the wicked fine folks at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
THE ISLANDERS WILL RETURN IN: FROM WINNIPEG WITH LOVE, opening this Sunday