A decade after bludgeoning the Vancouver Canucks with impunity on their way to a fully-deserved Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins are now complaining about officiating. Apparently, they’re victims.
Must be drastic times, drastic measures.
But don’t expect the sympathy-meter to get above zero outside of New England.
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team is now a game away from another playoff elimination after losing 5-4 Monday to the New York Islanders, tried after Game 5 to work officials by complaining about the lack of power plays for the Bruins.
Maybe Cassidy will have more success than his team, which despite working the Islanders physically, suddenly trails the East Division final 3-2 after losing the last two games due to the Bruins’ inferior depth.
Power plays in Game 5 were 4-2 for the Islanders, and New York scored on its first three chances with the man-advantage.
“We're playing a team that has, you know, very respected management and coaching staff; they won a Stanley Cup,” Cassidy said, referring to Islanders coach Barry Trotz’s championship with the Washington Capitals in 2018. “But I think they sell a narrative over there that it's more like the New York Saints, you know, not the New York Islanders. They play hard and they play the right way, but I feel we're the same way. The exact calls that are getting called on us do not get called on them, and I don't know why.
“Maybe we need to sell them more flop, but that's not us. You just hope they'd (referees) see them. I mean, the same calls go against us. It's not like I'm sitting there going, 'Well, every call against us sucks.' It's not true. It's just at the end of the day, the similar plays, they need to be penalized on those plays. Like I said, I think they. . . did a great job selling that narrative that they're clean. They play hard, a hard brand of hockey. I love the way they play. But they commit as many infractions as we do, trust me.”
Actually, the Islanders were the second-least penalized time in the NHL during the regular season, so their apparent discipline in the playoffs – just 23 times shorthanded in 11 games against Boston and Pittsburgh – doesn’t look especially suspicious.
The Bruins were the fourth-most penalized team in the regular season, shorthanded 38 times more over 56 games than the Islanders were.
Trotz refused to take the post-game bait when asked about the Bruins coach’s allegation about the New York Saints.
“Just look at where we ended up during the year,” Trotz said of the Islanders’ ability to avoid penalties. “I don't know what he means by that. You'll have to ask him.”
Boston has The Perfection Line: Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who also happens to have been suspended six times and is regarded as one of the NHL’s dirtiest players. There isn’t a player Marchand couldn’t low-bridge.
But there is a lot of imperfection behind the Bruins’ world-class trio, and the Islanders’ greater depth has swung the series in their favour.
Brock Nelson’s line drove New York offensively in its first-round series comeback against the Penguins, and Islanders star Mathew Barzal, the only player from his team close to Boston’s big three, appears to be taking over this one.
He scored one power-play goal and set up Jordan Eberle on another Monday. Grinder Casey Cizikas scored the overtime winner for the Islanders in Game 2 and centres one of the most physical and most-used fourth lines in the NHL. And New York’s third line is so good that centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who is in the conversation of best players in the series, swapped lines on Monday and played with Nelson’s wingers to go head-to-head against Bergeron.
Trotz uses his sixth defenceman, Noah Dobson, on New York’s top power play and has won games this series with both of his goalies, Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.
Officiating has very little to do with the Bruins’ 3-2 disadvantage, and it’s not the referees’ fault that Boston couldn’t kill a penalty Monday when it mattered.
One of the moves of the game was Trotz’s decision late in the first period to start using outstanding checking centre Pageau, who is kind of a Patrice Bergeron Lite, with wingers Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier head-to-head against The Perfection Line.
Cassidy took advantage of last change in the series’ first two games in Boston to put Bergeron out against Nelson, Bailey and Beauvillier, and that advantageous matchup resumed in Game 5 until Trotz swapped Nelson and Pageau.
The Bruins could either put Bergeron against Pageau, or keep Bergeron against Nelson and face Pageau’s wingers, the smart and experienced Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
The impact of Trotz’s move was clear stastically: in 6:07 of five-on-five ice time for Bergeron against Nelson, shot attempts with 10-1 in favour of the Bruins; in 5:42 of Bergeron vs. Pageau, it was 6-6.
The Bruins outshot the Islanders 44-19, and New York did not register a shot on target after Nelson made it 5-2 from Craig Smith’s turnover at 1:59 of the final period. Pastrnak and David Krejci scored to bring the Bruins within a goal with 5:17 remaining.
But Trotz called a timeout to settle his team and remind his players they’re allowed to go forward, and the Islanders yielded little in the final five minutes while closing out the win.
Including last season’s summer play-in round, the Islanders are in their eighth playoff series and have logged 41 playoff games since Trotz arrived on Long Island three years ago with general manager Lou Lamoriello.
“You go through different experiences, and it doesn't always go the way you map it out or the way you want,” Trotz said. “You just understand that you’ve got to break the game down into smaller micro-type pieces. Like the end of the game, okay we're still up, we've just got to break that down to the last five minutes and if we do it right, then we can come up with a victory. And that's sort of what we did. It was uncomfortable, they made us uncomfortable. They played very well. . . but we didn't panic. There's a calmness about our group. Instead of worrying about all the things, I think what experience does -- doesn't matter if it's hockey or it's in life -- experience just lets you focus in on four or five things that are the most important, and everything else will fall into place.”