The Boston Bruins were coming off a heady win over the Arizona Coyotes that saw them with an impressive 6-1 score on Thursday when they welcomed the New York Islanders to town for a Saturday evening tilt. On paper before the game, the teams looked remarkably similar in many ways. The Bruins brought a 7-3-0 record from their last ten games while the Islanders showed a 6-3-1. Netminders Tuukka Rask brought a 2.52 GAA and a save percentage of ,908 while Jaroslav Halak came in with a 2.99 GAA and save percentage of ,903.
Perhaps the biggest difference was the outcome of their previous games, as the Islanders took an overtime loss to the Penguins on Thursday before traveling to Boston. And the Islanders would be without former Bruin Johnny Boychuk on the blue line, as he missed his second straight game from injury. However, another former Bruin, Dennis Seidenberg was in the lineup.
As the game got underway, it was clear that the Bruins were bringing the energy and jump they had found in the third period of the Arizona game right into the first puck drop. Once again the line of Danton Heinen, Riley Nash and David Backes looked to be clicking. At 3:39 of the first period, Nash made a strong steal of the puck which he dished to Heinen, who fired from the right circle and Halak had to make a quick stop. Twelve seconds later it was Backes with a wrist shot right on Halak’s doorstep.
“I think we’re all on the same page simplicity wise and winning pucks. It was kind of fits and starts in there,” Backes suggested as to his line’s recent good fortune. “But when we’re out there, we have to keep it simple.”
And while the Islanders registered the first shot on net in the game, they would experience a drought of 12:43 playing time between their second and third shots on goal—which included two minutes on the man advantage when the Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was whistled for a slashing penalty. During those almost thirteen minutes, the Bruins notched eight shots on Halak. And while the teams went into their respective dressing rooms at the first intermission with nothing to show on the scoreboard, it was clear that Boston had dominated much of the opening twenty.
As things began in the second, there was a lot of trading of hits, shots on net, blocked shots, and takeaways. That all changed when Casey Cizikas caved in Charlie McAvoy along the half wall and Jake DeBrusk invited Cizikas to square off.
“Yeah, I think it was a clean hit, it was just a really hard one and I didn’t like it and I verbally asked [Cizikas] if he wanted to go and he said yes and he dropped his gloves,” DeBrusk shared on his first career fight.
“[DeBrusk] stook up for his teammate there. You got to tip your cap off to him. It’s definitely not easy,” Cizikas offered.
When the dust settled though DeBrusk received a 2-5-10, for a total of 17 minutes of penalty time: two for instigating, five for fighting and the automatic ten-minute misconduct that is attached to an instigator penalty. Cizikas sat for five minutes for fighting. The Islanders had their second power play of the game, and it tilted the ice in their favor despite the fact that they failed to capitalize. Rask—who clearly felt solid in his net—came up big for his team keeping the Islanders from getting on the board. And when the Islanders were caught with too many men on the ice, Brad Marchand would get the Bruins on the scoreboard as his wrist shot went five-hole on Halak 41 seconds into the Bruins first power play of the game. As the second period came to an end, the Bruins had a goal and had picked up their pace with the shots on net making the statistics looked a little more even than the play actually had been.
The third period found the physicality ramped up to a completely new level and saw the Bruins handed two five-minute majors. The first was the result of a hit by Marchand on John Tavares in the corner that was ruled an interference call just 26 seconds into the final twenty. However, Ryan Pulock, in an effort to stand up for his captain would get a roughing call, negating two minutes of the major penalty as the teams played four-on-four. Twelve seconds before Pulock was due to exit the box, Calvin De Haan got whistled for a trip on David Krejci, which meant that in the end the Islanders really only had 1:12 of actual man-advantage time.
DeBrusk, after missing most of the second period and the start of the third, was back on the ice when he found himself with an opportunity. It required a spin on his part to get around and put the wrister on Halak, top shelf, but it worked and the Bruins found themselves up 2-1 with a little more than 13 minutes remaining in regulation.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 10, 2017
“Those are the types of penalties I think you’ll end up killing generally. The guys dig in a little more. They don’t want him to feel bad for doing those things, sticking up for a teammate, so you dig in. And then getting the goal, I think it was written that there was a certain play drafted ahead of him, so I think he took it upon himself to maybe show that he’s here for a reason, he’s he’s a good player in his own right, and he was pretty excited about it,” Coach Cassidy said.
Cassidy was alluding to many articles and comments that surfaced before the game questioning the Bruins decision not to select Mathew Barzal with any of their three picks, when they had the number 13, 14, and 15 picks overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. DeBrusk was chosen 14th overall by the Bruins and then the Islanders selected Barzal with the 16th overall pick. And while Barzal has been a point getting machine, with 27 points (8G, 19A) in 28 games, he had been limited to just two shots on net during the first forty minutes of the game against the Bruins.
Barzal would add another assist to his totals, as the clock ticked under four minutes, when he got the secondary assist on Anders Lee’s goal which put the Islanders on the board and cut the Bruins lead in half.
Before the Barzal goal though, there would be the Bruins’ second five-minute major penalty to get through after Backes was called for a head butt and given a game misconduct. Alan Ladd would get two for roughing, so in the end the Bruins only had three minutes to kill of Backes’ penalty.
When the Bruins iced the puck with 1:31 remaining in the third, the Islanders used their time out, pulled their goalie and did their best to get the equalizer. Heinen, though would give the Bruins a little breathing room when he saw his sixth of the season go in the empty net with 42 seconds still on the clock.
While the Bruins were clearly pleased with the score and the two points, there are still questions as to whether or not Marchand, Backes or both will end up with supplemental discipline. If either of them does get a suspension of one or more games, that would make the player ineligible to dress against the Detroit Red Wings on the road Wednesday, and could also perhaps keep the player out against the Washington Capitals back in Boston on Thursday.
With Saturday’s win, the Bruins had just gotten above .500 for the first time since they won their first game of the season. And the loss of one or both of these players could see the team struggling as it did when both were out due to injuries and surgery.