Game 3 was another electric affair in a very physical second round series, but it ended with a dud for the home team: After tying the game late in regulation, the New York Islanders lost, 2-1, on a awful-angle shot by Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, right after the Islanders had several chances to end it in the opening minutes of OT.
It was a low-scoring game dominated by hard checks, desperate blocks, near-misses and goalies mostly playing well. For a neutral, it had to be great fun as the officials (mostly) stayed out of the way.
But we’ll remember it for what the Bruins goalie did and the Isles goalie didn’t: Tuukka Rask’s finest moments were early in the OT session when the Islanders had a few Grade A chances that looked like they might send Nassau Coliseum into bedlam again.
Rask’s heroics set the stage for the Bruins to take a 2-1 series lead and for Isles fans to feel conflicted about Semyon Varlamov’s night: The Islanders absolutely would not have made it to overtime without Varlamov, who was big and located pucks through traffic all night, including on two terrifying and exhausting penalty kills. He was truly outstanding between the first few minutes and the final shot of the game. But the first goal was a bit wobbly, and the winner was a killer from an awful angle.
It doesn’t undo all Varly did to get them there...well, actually it kind of does. But he can rebound for Game 4, and his strengths have been huge in Games 2 and 3.
Hockey’s just a cruel game, and playoff overtime is the game at its sadistic best, or in this case worst, when the Isles are on the losing end.
First Period: At least we got 5 minutes
It’s been a whole week since Nassau Coliseum got to go crazy, so the well-tailgated 12,000+ were in full song from before the start of the game. The atmosphere was great, but the Bruins survived first five minutes with poise and had a lead before six minutes were gone.
Taylor Hall backchecked hard to pokecheck Mathew Barzal from behind as he entered the Bruins zone, leading to a counterattack that Craig Smith finished.
It wasn’t a sizzling shot by any means, but well placed to beat Varlamov over the shoulder.
The Islanders responded to that early blow with some decent pressure, including a breakaway for Anthony Beauvillier — aiming for the same spot Casey Cizikas converted in OT of Game 2 — that was turned aside by Tuukka Rask.
Brad Marchand responded to a bump from Travis Zajac away from the play with an undisciplined high stick, to create the first penalty of the game. The Islanders power play controlled play okay, but were a half-step off on each 50/50 or bouncing puck and registered no shots.
Shortly after that penalty expired, the Isles dodged a bullet when a Mike Reilly shot through traffic from the left wing boards rang off the crossbar.
Overall shots ended up low, 7-5 for the Bruins.
Second Period: Stalemate
The middle frame picked up where the first left off: Not a lot of shots early on, but a physical slog, keeping offense largely to the outside, and some determined blocks by both teams whenever a scarier chance emerged. The Bruins ended up having the edge in shots 13-8, but there was hair-pulling moments for each side.
The Isles received their second power play just before the midpoint, at the end of a wild shift where bodies were falling everywhere. Adam Pelech lined up David Pastrnak at the left wing boards. Marchand lined up himself and tumbled in the high slot. Charlie McAvoy lined up J-G Pageau coming through the neutral zone. And finally, behind the play, Pastrnak took a big whack at the back of Ryan Pulock’s leg, which was immediately spotted by the back referee.
That made two bad penalties away from the play by the “perfection” line. But again the Isles weren’t able to cash in, though this power play was far more threatening and required some good saves from Rask.
And then it was back and forth, back and forth.
Barzal had one of his best looks of the series right after Brandon Carlo crosschecked Jordan Eberle into the boards from behind (no call). Barzal found space and powered from the side of the net to the top of the crease, but two Bruins defenders sticks were able to force his shot just wide.
Leo Komarov had Taylor Hall lined up as the Bruins broke out — or so he thought — but Hall ducked the hit and Komarov hurt...something on the boards. He left the ice slowly but was back for his next shift.
Then Kyle Palmieri showed off a toe drag move on McAvoy to create a look in tight as Pageau crashed for a rebound, but no official shot resulted. Pageau was stopped by a Rask shoulder save after a Travis Zajac entry and drop pass.
Sprinkled amid all that, Varlamov made several big saves, on Smith, Nick Ritchie, and one of his best came on a one-timer by David Krejci, requiring great anticipation and stretching on the cross-slot chance.
But they reached the second intermission with no change to the score: 1-0 for the Bruins heading into the third.
Third Period: Bend, bend, bend, then tie it
The third period began with a couple more stops from Varlamov, followed by an early high-sticking penalty by Andy Greene, giving the Bruins their first power play of the game.
With the Bruins’ top weapons buzzing, Varlamov was huge — his toes and legs were Sorokin-esque — and the Isles got a couple of key clears just as exhaustion was setting in.
The Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey line followed that up with a good shift but passed frustratingly often. Don’t know if that’s an effect of Rask being on his game or what, but it was painful to watch them pass up good chances.
About six minutes in the Bruins lost Carlo, who apparently has had concussion issues, on a pretty routine check by Cal Clutterbuck as Carlo retrieved the puck behind the Bruins net. Carlo’s head hit the glass and he was dazed, having to be helped off after play was whistled to help him while the Bruins carried the other way. I just hate seeing that and hope he’ll be okay, but this is an obvious concern for his long-term outlook.
Anyway, the tension just continued to mount and the Bruins kept piling up shots in an otherwise close-checking game. Varlamov was the main reason the Isles kept it close enough — even when the refs overthought things: With nine minutes left, McAvoy skated down the right wing side and tried a spin move on Josh Bailey, backing into Bailey, falling to the ice...and drawing a penalty. Bailey didn’t even change direction or leave a foot out, McAvoy just skated (backward) into him and fell.
Just terrible, inexcusable officiating.
So the Isles killed that one off — again, with some great work from Varly and his rebound-spotting penalty killers — but it unnecessarily burned off two more minutes from the clock.
Fortunately, a little bit of justice would return, delivered by one young Mathew Barzal.
Palmieri swatted at a point shot but didn’t get much of it as it went behind the net from the right wing side. Agile Barzal retrieved it behind the net and pulled it back the other way for a wraparound. Rask stopped the first and the second try at the post with his toe, but Barzal would not be denied.
Tied at 1-1, with 5:26 to go.
After a shot block, Beauvillier had a breakaway under pressure with 3:15 left. Had he known Brock Nelson was trailing he might have been able to create a shot with a rebound, but instead Rask gobbled up his high backhand try. The pursuing defenseman, Connor Clifton, didn’t give him a chance to shoot forehand.
With 2:15 left, finally it was the Bruins’ turn to sweat a high-leverage penalty kill. Chris Wagner was called for a blatant crosscheck behind in the corner, though I suspect if he was a more prominent player — or maybe it was penance for the Bailey call? — he would’ve gotten away with it. (In the latest odd moment of commentary in a career filled with them, Pierre McGuire on NBC Sports said: “They set the standard early, don’t crosscheck guys from behind.” This in a game where zero crosschecks had been called to that point.)
It’s just bizarre that they let that stuff go randomly throughout the game and then call it with 2:15 left, and Wagner clearly reacted as if some Tim Peel Code had been violated.
The Islanders power play was their best yet, tantalizingly threatening after a slow start and an early Bruins clear. They had good looks, a few shots, but always a block, a save, or a missed connection. Hardly an optimist, I even let myself think we might get a late winner there but alas. Overtime.
Shots in regulation were 39-24 for the Bruins, with 8-5 of that total coming on the teams’ respective power plays.
Overtime: Rask stops Isles push, Marchand ends it at 3:36
The Islanders came out on the front foot in overtime, forcing three icings from the Bruins under pressure in the first few minutes. The B-B-B line was particularly dangerous, and Rask was very sharp. His best sequence was probably stopping Eberle from the slot and then Barzal immediately afterward on the rebound.
But, instead of getting pressure following the third icing, the Bruins were able to get a clean breakout, McAvoy gaining the zone and dropping to Marchand, who scored from a near-goal-line angle along the left wing boards.
Varlamov overplayed the shot, possibly fearing the near-side carom, and it actually went in via the far-side corner. It was from such an unthreatening angle that Pageau played him slow and said, “by all means, take this territory.”
Brad Marchand gets the GWG in OT. Not a shining moment for Semyon Varlamov! pic.twitter.com/lD5lHrqJRf— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) June 4, 2021
Really tough ending to a great game.
Varlamov on the Marchand winner: "I don't really have an answer for you right now. Just kind of a weird shot and the puck found the net." #Isles— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) June 4, 2021
JG Pageau, Sage & Sooth-sayer
JG Pageau: "I'm not too worried. With the character in this room and the goalies we have who give us a chance every night to win, I'm very positive and excited for the next game." #Isles— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) June 4, 2021
JG Pageau: "In OT, it's going to go one way or the other. We've been very good so far. We had our looks and it didn't bounce our way." #Isles— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) June 4, 2021
Game 4 is Saturday at the Coliseum.