After all the hitting, scoring chances, goals and general mayhem in the first two games of the East Division final in Boston, the Bruins and Islanders each seemed to be channelling in Game 3 the old New Jersey Devils, who under New York general manager Lamoriello won three Stanley Cups by eliminating space and suffocating opponents.
And then the Bruins took over.
Third in the NHL this season in shots-per-game, the Bruins managed only six shots on target through 30 minutes Thursday before dominating the second half of the game and taking a 2-1 series lead with a 2-1 win.
Brilliant to keep his team in it, Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov appeared to slightly lose his angle at the near post as Brad Marchand scored over his shoulder from an acute angle at 3:36 of overtime.
In the second half of regulation, Boston outshot New York 33-11, but it was the Islanders who forced overtime when Mathew Barzal jammed a puck between the post and Bruin goalie Tuukka Rask’s skate late in the third period.
“Did we expect it to go in from there?” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Only Brad can answer that, but obviously you don't, especially with all the saves (Varlamov) made in tight. Maybe there was a bit of a screen, maybe he was a little late picking it up. I don't care, to be honest with you. It went in the net, we won the game. You don't ask how sometimes.
“We didn't really steal it, in my estimation. I thought we played a really, really solid road game.”
Marchand, who skated the puck deep down left wing to allow teammates to change, said he probably didn’t expect his shot to beat Varlamov.
But “any shot, especially in overtime, has a chance to go in.”
A WIN AND A LOSS
Already missing veteran defenceman Kevan Miller due to injury, the Bruins lost top-four blue-liner Brandon Carlo six minutes into the third period when he banged his head on the glass on a hard, but legal hit by Islander Cal Clutterbuck.
Clearly woozy, Carlo knelt on the ice trying to recover his equilibrium before skating off with assistance. It’s difficult to imagine him playing Game 4 on Saturday. If he’s out, there will be even more responsibility on Charlie McAvoy, whose ice time Thursday of 29:11 was nearly seven minutes more than any teammate and almost five minutes more than any Islander logged.
A head injury to Carlo is especially concerning because the physical 24-year-old missed 11 games in March with a concussion suffered on a high hit by Washington Capitals predator Tom Wilson, who was suspended seven games for his headshot.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz made a significant move to try to counter the superstar line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who combined for five of the Bruins’ eight goals in the series first two games.
Trotz shifted his third line, centred by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, against the Bergeron unit after the Islanders used Brock Nelson’s line in a power-against-power matchup through two games. For the most part, the tactical shift worked as Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak were limited to seven even-strength shots in Game 3. Pageau, Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri were on the ice for the Islanders when Marchand scored in OT, but there was nothing the forwards could do to save their goalie from himself on that play.
IS THAT MAT BARZAL?
Goal-less through the Islanders’ first eight playoff games and with only four assists to show for the most important hockey of the season, Barzal’s performance on Thursday could represent a breakthrough for the struggling offensive star.
Although he turned over the puck at the Boston blue line before the Bruins’ first goal, Barzal played with more assertiveness and directness, attempting six shots and finally scoring his first of the playoffs at 14:34 of the third period when he got three chances to jam in a puck that bounced to him off the end boards after some miscommunication between Rask and Boston defenceman Connor Clifton.
The Islanders have an excellent, deep team. But Barzal is the only New York player whose skills could allow him to be a difference-maker on the scale of Pastrnak, Bergeron or Marchand.
Taylor Hall was again a key supporting player for the Bruins, backchecking to steal the puck from Barzal in the first period, transitioning it back up ice and eventually passing to Craig Smith on Boston’s opening goal.
A serial disappointment at playoff time, Hall was traded to the Bruins by the Buffalo Sabres at the deadline for the discounted price of a second-round draft pick. The Islanders were also interested in renting Hall, but instead added character forwards Zajac and Palmieri from New Jersey for a package of assets that included a first-round pick.
“He's a special kid, a special player,” Smith said Thursday of Hall. “He's got exceptional speed, and an exceptional mind for the game. He was one of the best players out there.”
Cassidy: "I thought it was a great goaltending game by their guy and our guy. And that's why you get 1-1 in overtime. That's what you expect in the playoffs. I was asked that the other day; what I was a little bit surprised at was the amount of goals from two very good defensive teams. This is more what I thought it would be.”