The Islanders and Bruins faced off on national TV tonight. Two teams that have twenties in the win column and single digits in the loss column made for some really entertaining hockey. Great defense, great offense, great goaltending—that was a fantastic game to watch no matter who you root for.
Which makes the result that much sweeter. A statement game on national TV.
The Bruins got on the board early, but the Islanders tilted the ice in the second and smothered Boston while taking the lead, largely courtesy of former Bruin Johnny Boychuk. A two-man advantage in the third allowed the Bruins to tie the game and force extra time, but Semyon Varlamov stood tall as the Islanders went on to take the extra point in the shootout.
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First Period: Early Blemish, Slow Going After
It didn’t take long for the Bruins to take the lead in this contest. Just two minutes in, Ryan Pulock’s attempt at carrying out of the defensive zone was poked away by Charlie Coyle and picked up by Anders Bjork. The Other Notre Dame Anders sniped it past Semyon Varlamov and gave the home crowd something to cheer about early. It was the first shot of the game.
Boston had a mildly frightening power play midway through the period after New York put too many men on, with Danton Heinen catching the post on a tip, but the most dangerous chance was probably Casey Cizikas on the forecheck right at the beginning of the kill. The Islanders, for their part, did not generate too much, even on their own power play, and ended the period on the kill again with Cizikas in the box. But they did limit the Bruins to only three shots on goal.
this game has been a defense clinic by both teams— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) December 20, 2019
Second Period: One of the Most Defensive Periods I’ve Ever Seen
The Islanders killed off the Cizikas minor and started to pick up some offensive zone time, breaking through courtesy of a former Bruin. Nick Leddy sped end-to-end and got into the corner, chipping the puck over to Anders Lee. Lee worked it to Jordan Eberle, who fed Johnny Boychuk for a seeing-eye one-timer that Tuukka Rask didn’t see. The game was tied, and the Islanders gained some energy from the goal.
Johnny Rocket! @NYIslanders | #NYIvsBOS pic.twitter.com/i16Jsqp9wV— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) December 20, 2019
The game turned into a letter-perfect defensive effort—I believe there was about 4:00 left in the period when the Islanders gained the lead in SOGs, 6-5 (!). But the game opened up coming out of the last commercial break and the teams traded odd-man rushes. It looked like Bjork scored off a pretty cross-ice pass, but Varlamov had other ideas.
VARLY SAID, "I'LL TAKE THAT!" @NYIslanders | #NYIvsBOS pic.twitter.com/AS0QSdPai8— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) December 20, 2019
That save must have pumped up the Isles, and they were able to capitalize on that high. The strategy was to work it to Boychuk and he was able to get a few shots through, but it was his diagonal cross-ice pass to Mathew Barzal that deserves all the attention. Barzal, waiting by himself in front of the net Rask left open, made no mistake on that. New York snatched the lead with a minute and a half left in the second period.
Barzal scores his 14th of the season to give the #Isles a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/VykDLQgglT— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) December 20, 2019
For added fun, they earned a power play with sixteen seconds remaining that carried over to the third.
Third Period: The Bruins Are Pretty Good, but So Are the Islanders
For the first minute of the period, the Islanders found themselves pinned in their own zone by the shorthanded Bruins, a little hesitant with the puck. But they salvaged the back half of the man advantage and got a few chances toward Rask, probably their best chances on the power play tonight.
But a high-stick by Adam Pelech and a delay of game toss by Brock Nelson gave the Bruins 1:16 of a five-on-three to work with; they only need seven seconds of it. Patrice Bergeron beat Cizikas on the face-off and the Bruins worked it around the point before Torey Krug rifled a shot over Varlamov.
The Islanders killed off the remaining 1:53 of the Nelson minor but Boston was rolling by that point. The Bruins really burst onto the scene after that goal and had 15 shots in the third period by the 7:30 mark, but the Islanders slowly worked back to even the seas and the teams exchanged chances as regulation finished up. To overtime we went.
Overtime: My Heart Is Pounding
The overtime period was largely controlled by the Bruins because they won most, if not all, of the face-offs in the extra frame, but the Islanders did get their chances thanks to some good stick work. Barzal made everyone look silly when he faked skating behind the net before backhanding a no-look pass to Lee, who just couldn’t find twine.
It looked like overtime was going to end unceremoniously but Devon Toews ended up in the neutral zone by himself with ten seconds left and was hit with a pass from behind the Isles’ net. He had a mile of space to try to end it before the skills competition, but the puck frustratingly skipped off his stick as he got in close to Rask.
Shootout: Pretty Moves All-Around
Eberle started it off with a nice goal, faking out Rask, and Coyle followed up by ringing his chance off the cross-bar.
Barzal flew in and slowed down to throw Rask off-guard before ripping it over his shoulder. But David Pastrnak, who was pretty quiet until the third period, undressed Varlamov a bit to keep Boston alive.
BARZAL WITH THE SHOOTOUT WINNER pic.twitter.com/M8No2DMYdC— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 20, 2019
Josh Bailey wasn’t able to seal the deal with a goal either, leaving the game on Brad Marchand’s stick. But Varlamov stuck with him and got the last laugh. The Islanders got two points.
- The Islanders slayed the dragon a bit with that win. The Bruins always seem to have the Islanders’ number, or they did last year at least. They’re always the team that scares me most in the playoffs because they can shut you down the way the Islanders can, but then they also have one of the best offenses in the league—top-heavy, yes, but that top is the top. That top line was pretty quiet tonight, though. I can’t wait for the next game against them.
- Johnny Boychuk got his first goal in 21 games and was the driving force behind the go-ahead goal. He must have been happy to be back in Boston. It’s always great to see his reactions.
- Speaking of reactions, Mathew Barzal looked thrilled to get that goal, and was as impressed with Boychuk’s pass as the rest of us.
- Semyon Varlamov was excellent tonight, especially once the Bruins turned it on in the third. Both goals were similar, and it was hard to fault either one: a shot right off a turnover, and a wide-open look on a five-on-three. Great otherwise. That highlight-reel save in the second will probably get him on Sportscenter and some top saves of the season lists.
- Really scary moment in the third: Cal Clutterbuck got caught with Matt Grzelyck’s skate as the latter was falling. It looked like it hit him on the wrist or the palm and Clutterbuck went right off. I hope he’s okay, it was a frightening moment.
The Islanders head back home for a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Ducks. They’ll drop the puck at 1:00 p.m.
If you thought it was weird enough that the Islanders played home games at 1:00 p.m. on consecutive Saturdays, consider that Anaheim fans will watch this at 10:00 a.m., and they’ll be doing almost the exact same thing on Sunday—they visit the Rangers at MSG at 12:30 EST, which, of course, is 9:30 a.m. PST. Breakfast and hockey, that’s the dream. Hockey and Bloody Marys.