The flow of the opening 20 minutes looked like the Isles were due for "one of those games," where the opponent came ready and controlled play. It was the Bruins' first game since the All-Star Break, so an energetic visit was to be expected. But then the second period came, and we saw a more welcome old friend: An Isles team that conceded first often this season but still came storing back, buoyed by trust in their own abilities and own game plan.
The first version cost them two goals. The second enabled them to get both goals back...until a killer from the point gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead just four seconds before the second intermission.
When Boston added an insurance goal in the third, the rest of the night was Rask's to seal, and seal it he did. A late empty netter provided the 5-2 final.
Though the Isles outshot the Bruins 15-11 in the first period, the Bruins clearly had the better of play, with more attempts and more stretches of sustained pressure. So when Reilly Smith finally opened scoring 14 minutes in, it already felt like it was just a matter of time. Then Patrice Bergeron doubled the Bruins' lead on the power play with a brilliant screen shot, taking advantage of Johnny Boychuk's stick breaking and effectively limiting the Isles to three penalty killers.
If the Islanders were uncharacteristically outplayed in the first 20 minutes, they came out on absolute fire in the second, Tuukka Rask being the only thing standing in the way of a quick erasure of the two-goal lead. After Rask absolutely robbed Michael Grabner with his paddle Brock Nelson hit the post.
GIF: Tuukka Rask just straight up robbed the Islanders pic.twitter.com/g0rMBiNqsW
— Steph (@myregularface) January 30, 2015
Bounces not going their way, or just keep at it and good things will come? Rask answered that question by providing a gift: a fat rebound on a soft John Tavares lob, which Tavares happily backhanded high and in past the sprawled and ashamed Bruins goalie.
Tavares' goal came at 8:25 of the second, got the already-boisterous crowd to turn it up to eleven, and created just a brief celebratory pause in continued Isles offensive pressure. But Casey Cizikas, who was already felled by a brutal shot block in the first period, was tripped up around the net in the second and left the game, forcing some line jockeying by the Isles.
That appeared to have an effect by the 15th minute, when the Bruins finally hemmed the Isles in for a full shift of running around, Jaroslav Halak in a rare episode of scrambling. But the Isles followed that right up with the tying goal: John Tavares forechecked to create a turnover, then Johnny Boychuk placed the resulting point shot straight through the slot that Michael Grabner deflected against the grain.
Just when it looked like the Isles had the game back, that gut punch came at the end of the second period. With time winding down, Jaroslav Halak retrieved the puck behind the net to rim it around the boards, probably figuring that would help burn the clock. But Kevan Miller was there at the point to intercept and send a hopeful high volley that Halak couldn't pick up.
(Jack Capuano didn't blame Halak for that goal, saying he was under pressure and had to make a choice. Also from Capuano: "We didn't play a full 60 minutes, but we played well enough to win a hockey game. Obviously that third goal was a turning point." More from Capuano at IslesTV here.)
Likewise, Halak was handcuffed by a deflected Torey Krug point shot early in the third period, and that feeling of "just not their night" returned in force. The Isles had a decent power play soon thereafter, but held onto the puck more than they actually generated chances. They ended up outshooting the Bruins 14-6 in the final period (45-33) as they tried to chip away, but nothing came of it, and Milan Lucic's empty netter with 2:06 left removed any remnant doubt.
If there were any complaints to be made outside the first period, it was the absent officiating for the entirety of the night. The officials allowed all muggings and crosschecks to go unrestrained -- not to mention some iffy line changes that drew the ire of the Isles coaching staff -- while the only three infractions were of the obstruction variety. It was '80s alley rules meets early-2000's obstruction crackdown-interruptus.
Brad Marchand was the beneficiary of two particular jungle rules incidents, one a crosscheck to the back of the neck/shoulders of Josh Bailey complete with a pancake follow-up, the other a mugging of John Tavares.
#Isles Tavares: "[Marchand] was head-locking me, the ref was staring right at it. Different set of rules I guess"
— Matt Saidman (@MattSaidman) January 30, 2015
[More post-game from Tavares at IslesTV here, including: "Sometimes (a tough start) just happens when you're playing a good team."]
That of course was in no way the difference in the game -- the goaltending was -- it just added to the catalog of NHL nights where you almost want a memo issued before the game informing the viewing audience which rulebook would be deployed, at the pleasure of the court.
It's tempting to read the curious enforcement as a preview for some dreaded playoff matchup where the more physical Bruins will be allowed to intimidate the playoff-green Isles, but the more pertinent difference was Rask playing that well and Halak giving up a clunker at the end of the second and a seeing-eye insurance goal early in the third. (That said, Rask's first goal against was a clunker of a different variety.)
Boychuk: "We have a good team here, and we have to continue to push ourselves, to prove [ourselves] as a good team." #Isles
— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) January 30, 2015
[More from Boychuk at IslesTV here.]
Anyway, the Bruins have been on the rebound lately and Rask's recent play has been a big part of that. The Islanders were witnesses tonight.
Quote(s) of the Night
As it was Mike Bossy's tribute night, he had a media session telling old tales this morning and was also a guest with Howie Rose and his former teammate Butch Goring during the first intermission on MSG.
Mike Bossy, Part I (on his defensive reputation coming out of the Q):
I remember during that first training camp I kept asking Al where I should be in different situations. He finally told me, "Stop asking questions. If I need to tell you something, I'll tell you something. You were drafted to score goals, let us work on your defensive game."
Mike Bossy, Part II:
You brought this up during the game the other night and I texted you, maybe you didn't see it -- [Butch retorts: "I ignored it."] -- but one of my fondest memories was assisting on all five of John Tonelli's goals and getting a sixth assist in that game. My proudest moments were when Al put me on at the end of the game with the goalie pulled, or when he put me on the penalty kill. Because those were the things I wasn't supposed to be able to do when I was drafted.
Next is an even tougher Atlantic opponent, as the Isles hit the road for a matinee in Detroit on Saturday.