The New York Islanders overcame an outstanding night from Tuukka Rask (30 saves) and delivered their best performance of the second round, evening their NHL playoffs series with the Boston Bruins at 2-2.
The empty-net-inflated 4-1 final score does not reflect how long Game 4 was on a knife’s edge. Boston’s only lead lasted five minutes, and the Isles didn’t get a lead of their own until seven minutes remained in regulation, when Mathew Barzal sent Nassau Coliseum into the only fitting crescendo for what was an all-Saturday party, from parking lot to packed house.
Between all that, it was a physical, tight-checking, strategically careful but far from uneventful game throughout. While the day’s other playoff game was a 6-4 offense-fest, this one had the look of a Stanley Cup final game. Just two well-coached battering rams going at each other, with intensity high but rarely boiling over into undisciplined play.
Now the remainder of the series is a best-of-three. If the first four games are an indication, it’s only going to get better and better, but the winner may carry considerable damages into the next round.
First Period: What a series
It was another electric start, and this time the initial buzz wasn’t short-circuited by an early Bruins goal. Frankly, I could watch periods like this all playoff long, no matter which teams are involved.
Each line had a pretty good start, and the J-G Pageau line continued its frequent dates with the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron line, faring pretty well against them early in the period.
The series’ escalating temper continued in Game 4, and this time it produced the now-rare playoff fights. First Taylor Hall objected to hard play by Scott Mayfield and initiated a fight, the ex-Oiler’s first fight since 2011.
Taylor Hall challenges and fights Scott Mayfield in Game 4 pic.twitter.com/q7gfCfqDFq— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 5, 2021
A little while later, another scrum drew more pairings. Mathew Barzal was already headed to the box on a minor, when the scrum erupted into a fight between Matt Martin and Jarred Tinordi, who stepped into the lineup in place of the injured Brandon Carlo. Barzal had been hobbled after a collision with Jordan Eberle and a Bruin. After play and the puck went the other way, Curtis Lazar came a’hunting and Barzal put up the ol’ crosscheck gate, taking a high-sticking penalty.
Anthony Beauvillier had the best chance of the period when the Islanders forecheck forced a missed pass and turnover by the Bruins defense. Josh Bailey found him at the doorstep, and Beauvillier — who might’ve had more time or space to shoot near side than he realized — made a nice move across the crease but Tuukka Rask stayed with him and laid the pad down.
Not long after, David Pastrnak had by far the best chance of the period and perhaps the series: A cross-slot pass from Patrice Bergeron fooled three Islanders and had Semyon Varlamov dead in the water. Pastrnak had a wide open net and a perfectly delivered pass...and he hit the far post. Varlamov gratefully jumped on the rebound to freeze the play.
That was the last of the hairiest events from the period, though the Bruins top line had one shift of sustained pressure in the final minute.
Second Period: Blood boiling
The middle period saw no fights, but continued foul tempers, an exchange of goals, and the usual bizarre officiating selection.
Brad Marchand did one of his specialties, which was to make up — and somehow get the refs to bite — a nothing play to look like a penalty. After an Isles offensive zone faceoff, Marchand skated under and up into Martin’s arm to make it look like he was being held and raked. You could see his intent with how he danced like he was walking on hot coals afterward to draw attention.
The Bruins converted on the ensuing power play, with Marchand’s stick pinned by Varlamov’s skate against the post after Marchand whiffed. That might have kept Varlamov from moving his leg all the way to the post, a minor but important detail that caused the Islanders to challenge the call for goalie interference. But the shot went in high, and their challenge was denied. So the Bruins got another power play — ironically both being caused by the weasel wearing #63, whose great redemption story is that he swears he finally got all grown up at age 32.
The Islanders killed off the second penalty, and Jordan Eberle was sent on a partial break as he came out of the box. He was well covered, but he made a little something out of it by slamming on the breaks, then getting off a backhand.
But the Isles tied it up soon afterward, through another happy moment of Kyle Palmieri being on the ice with Barzal after Leo Komarov finished some PK duty. Barzal fought off a check below the goal line and found Palmieri at the doorstep, after he slid across the top of the crease to meet the pass.
At the midway point, Barzal and David Krejci exchanged a series of uncalled crosschecks (because they never call crosschecks, even though Pierre McGuire said they “set a clear standard” in the last game after they called...one). Anyway, then Krejci jabbed Barzal in the family jewels, and Barzal went down. Initially they called a major for spearing on Krejci, but after an official review, they knocked it down to a minor for slashing, which is a pretty sketchy maneuver — was it spearing or not? — but to be expected from the roll the dice officiating.
Krejci spears Barzal. It's called as a major and reviewed, but becomes a slashing minor. pic.twitter.com/iWbywD6rXg— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) June 6, 2021
Had the refs not put their eggs in the Major: Spearing basket, they could’ve given Krejci an extra minor for slashing Barzal while he was down on the ice — that was honestly the stupidest move of the entire controversial sequence.
The Isles didn’t get much going on that power play, and things stayed tied 1-1 as the final stretch of the period approached.
With one minute to go, Charlie McAvoy was whistled for a no-doubter when he got his stick up on Beauvillier’s face. (This came shortly after Nelson checked McAvoy from behind as the defenseman turned, but they’re not calling those, so nothing came of that but more salt.)
With the power play split over two periods, the Isles didn’t get set up much on the second-period part. Beauvillier tried a rush chance rather than waiting for a formation to set, and when that didn’t connect, the Bruins had an easy clear and that was that.
Third Period: Breakthrough, Nassau Eruption
The second half of the Islanders power play was even worse than the one that ended the second period, as the Bruins not only extinguished it but had quality scoring chances. Marchand followed up a rush of his own to walk alone in front of Varlamov — Nick Leddy just kind of let him take it there — but thankfully Varly was ready for the shorthanded chance and turned it away.
Just when it looked like the Bruins’ top line was edging the Isles more and more out of their structure, Varlamov stayed strong — stopping a one-timer set up beautifully from behind his net — which set the stage for a response.
With just under seven minutes remaining in regulation, Komarov helped keep the puck in the Bruins end with a timely check. After a Noah Dobson point shot, Barzal helped keep the cycle going, setting up another big Coliseum moment. Barzal fed Mayfield, whose shot was deflected and arcing through the slot...where Barzal swatted it before it hit the ice, past an unprepared Rask.
It was a 2-1 Isles lead with 6:57 to go.
The rest of the period was an absurd clinic of territorial placement, determined backchecking, and the joy of sucking the soul out of an opponent. Pageau was huge, as usual, singlehandedly short-circuiting a rush by the Bruins top line by hounding Pastrnak from behind, taking the puck into the Bruins zone, and not letting go.
Their work kept the Bruins from pulling Rask on their first few attempts. Once Boston did finally get Rask out of the goal, Marchand led a rush down the left wing and pulled up as he often does. This time Clutterbuck was there to deliver a separating hit, and send to Cizikas in the neutral zone.
Cizikas backhanded the disc to the center of the net to make it 3-1 at 18:57.
Pageau then cashed in on another empty-netter to make it 4-1 at 19:57.
The Isles had been patient, finally broke through on a goalie having a great night, and then mercilessly shut the door.
Barzal got the first star, but of course it was again a whole-lineup effort.
This and That
- Adam Pelech is an animal.
- So is J-G Pageau.
- Quieter night for Varlamov — for once! — but he was there every time they needed him...and to pick up the remains that time Pastrnak hit the post when he had nothing but net to shoot at.
- Loved that Barzal got another big Coliseum night to enjoy. He fights through so much while trying to provide a boost; hopefully there are many more in store yet this spring.
- I remain worried that the survivor of this series will not have a lot left for the next round. But I’m going to keep enjoying this battle while it lasts.
- LOL Cassidy. The refs are maddening and inconsistent and wait too long to establish a “standard” (making it meaningless), but come on, buddy. Do we need to go back and count all your power plays in the first two rounds?
Game 5 is Monday night in Boston, at 6:30 p.m. EDT or thereabouts.