The Boston Bruins came out flying in their first game in front of a TD Garden fanbase Thursday night. They nearly let things get away from them, again, against the East Division-leading Islanders.
A pair of unlikely sources in Karson Kuhlman and Steven Kampfer put the Bruins ahead 2-0 at the end of the first period. Even with their hot start, Bruce Cassidy wouldn’t have Tuukka Rask — making his first start since March 7 — for the rest of the night after he exited the game with an upper-body injury.
Jaroslav Halak looked a little off in relief, especially in overtime. His teammates didn’t play too poorly, but they failed to give him any breathing room.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau struck against the Bruins again in the middle stanza to cut the deficit to 2-1 after the Islanders killed off Boston’s four-minute power-play attempt. The Islanders kept pushing and eventually evened things up in the third on Josh Bailey’s slick wrist shot.
Oliver Wahlstrom gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead late in the final stanza. Anders Bjork scored 58 seconds later to even things up and salvage a point for the Bruins. But Bjork and company failed to capitalize on that late momentum after Anthony Beauvillier buried home a leaky rebound past Halak a mere 21 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session to give the Isles their fifth win over the season over the Bruins.
“We had a 2-0 lead…we got some secondary scoring [and a goal] from the secondary power play [unit],” Cassidy said following Boston’s 4-3 setback. “We didn’t defend well in front of our net…we had to switch goalies. It sure wasn’t easy on Jaro [Halak] to go into a situation like that. They finished around the net. We could’ve been harder [on pucks]…we could’ve used an extra stop. We got a point out of it…we were in position to get two. They played winning hockey in the third period better than we did.”
Here’s what we learned from another frustrating loss to the Islanders.
Power play short circuits at an untimely moment
The Bruins struck once on the power play with Kampfer’s first goal in over two years. They had a chance to blow the game open in the middle stanza with Scott Mayfield serving a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking Patrice Bergeron.
Boston’s once potent power play quickly became a liability. The top unit generated a few chances in their opening shift only to fall short against Semyon Varlamov and the Isles’ shorthanded unit. The secondary unit failed to establish significant zone time after lighting the lamp several minutes prior.
In the end, the Bruins had nothing to show for their stagnant power play attempts. The opportunistic Islanders quickly pounced with Pageau — following a bad line change — notching his fifth goal of the season against the Black and Gold.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 26, 2021
With new life, the Islanders established momentum and rarely looked back aside from Bjork’s tying tally. They were a step quicker against the Bruins from the midpoint of the second period to the final horn.
“You’re not going to score on every one,” Cassidy said of the power play. “We did get one to extend the lead. We had a few looks that we misfired on, but it was a bad change and we got frustrated late in it.
“Obviously, they’re going to get a bit of juice from killing the penalty, but now they kill the penalty and they cut the deficit in half. They need to be better in that situation. I expect better. And to me, that gave the Islanders some life. It really wasn’t necessary.
For a team struggling with 5v5 production, the Bruins play like a well-oiled machine when the power play clicks. David Pastrnak’s patented one-timer and Brad Marchand setting up Bergeron in the slot from his bumper position became the power play’s bread and butter.
Cassidy could’ve used more of that from his usual reliable commodities on the top unit. Their struggles have trickled down into other areas of play.
“Guys that we rely on — leaders that we have praised for years here — [I was] disappointed that we were not able to grind it out, change when you’re supposed to, and make the plays you’re supposed to on the power play,” Cassidy added.
In a rare occasion, the Bruins relied on their secondary scorers to carry them Thursday night. But the short-circuiting power play began the unraveling process.
Halak can’t bail out his team in relief
The Bruins appeared primed to hand Rask his 300th career victory on Thursday. But his untimely exit forced Halak into a relief appearance.
Halak had a two-goal cushion to work with even with very little preparation time. The Bruins got away from their formula in the opening 20 minutes, asking Halak to bail them out more often than not. He came through for them in spurts, but not consistently.
The Bruins had a chance to salvage a victory in overtime. Cassidy trotted out Coyle and Bjork up front — after a stellar shift on the tying goal — with Matt Grzelcyk manning the back end. Halak was the lone Bruin to touch the puck in the 21 seconds of 3-on-3 play. He didn’t handle Nick Leddy’s initial shot cleanly, thus allowing a hard-driving Beauvillier to pounce on a rebound for the game-winner.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 26, 2021
Cassidy provided no further update on Rask afterward. He hoped to have Rask and Halak in tandem for their busiest stretch of the season.
Dan Vladar provided the Bruins with a timely win last Tuesday in Pittsburgh. He’d surely enter a tougher situation if Rask misses extended time. And with Halak’s recent struggles, Vladar may find himself between Boston’s pipes more frequently than expected.
‘Unfortunately, we couldn’t send them home in a better mood.’
This place is loud. pic.twitter.com/sYYiqiwCis
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 26, 2021
After spending nearly a week in COVID protocol, the Bruins returned home to Boston hoping to build off of their recent two-game win streak. They hoped to accomplish that feat in front of their own socially distant fanbase for the first time this season.
“It was awesome,” Bjork said of the fans returning to TD Garden. “We definitely felt their energy. I think it helped us a bit for sure. We were back to playing normal Bruins hockey with fans involved. I felt there were a lot more fans than they actually were [in attendance]. So, it was pretty cool. It was great to have them back.”
Surely, Thursday’s crowd didn’t replicate a normal night of nearly 18,000 screaming spectators on Causeway St. But the Bruins felt the energy and passion from the 2,191 in attendance.
The passion, the anthem from Todd Angilly, the goal horn and Zombie Nation all brought some semblance of normalcy during this unusual season. Things quieted down as the Islanders halted Boston’s first-period momentum in its tracks.
Cassidy and company would’ve loved nothing more than to send the fans home happy. They’ll have several chances ahead to put smiles on faces again, including Saturday when they host the lowly Sabres.
“It’s obviously much better [than having] nobody,” Cassidy said. “It’s not going to replace having 18,000, but it’s nice to hear them again. Unfortunately, we couldn’t send them home in a better mood. There were some good pockets of hockey for them, and some other pockets they were probably disappointed and frustrated, but we are as well. Hopefully Saturday we give them more to cheer about.”
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