BOSTON - John Tavares' line saw plenty of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara in the first half of the first period Thursday night. Tavares saw the 6-foot-9 Chara quite up close, when Chara laid him out with a big, clean hit to deny a scoring chance midway through the first.
But that was the last Tavares and the Isles saw of Chara, who left the game soon after with an undisclosed injury. Down to five defensemen and without their minutes-eating big man, the Bruins were more vulnerable in their own end.
The Islanders took advantage in the second period, with Kyle Okposo scoring off a setup by Tavares just 90 seconds into the second to break a tie and Cal Clutterbuck scoring off another good cycle 7:57 later.
The Islanders finally won, 3-2, but the game came with a host of hairy moments over the final six minutes, when Chad Johnson stood tall and a tired Isles team, having lost Josh Bailey to a broken hand after a period, managed to hang on.
"I'm proud of our guys, that was a good effort," Jack Capuano said after his team snapped a two-game slide to go to 5-2-0 and held an opponent under three goals for the first time this season. "Chad made some big saves and we had two really good periods."
Those 40 good minutes were enough. Johnny Boychuk, welcomed back to Boston with chants, cheers and a video tribute, appeared to get the Islanders on the board 2:38 in, but Anders Lee was whistled for interference around the Boston net.
Bailey poked a loose puck off Dougie Hamilton's skates and toward the goal line, where Frans Nielsen swept it past Niklas Svedberg to open the scoring 6:21 in. Milan Lucic tied it with 1:39 left in the first, but that period belonged to the Islanders territorially and psychologically -- they were the faster, more aggressive and better team, big statements given this is the home of the perennially high-achieving Bruins.
"In this building, against that team, we felt good about the first two," Clutterbuck said.
Johnson, making his first start against his former team, said he felt more nerves than he had since his first NHL appearance. A rebound stop on Reilly Smith during an early Bruins power play helped get Johnson focused -- he got his right arm on Smith's wired shot and the puck went off the crossbar and out of play, leaving Smith bewildered as to how the puck stayed out.
"I was definitely in the game right away," said Johnson, who finished with 30 saves. His teammates blocked another 19 Bruins attempts.
Chris Kelly cut the Isles' lead to 3-2 with 10:11 to go and the Bruins poured on the pressure, keeping the Islanders penned in their own zone for minutes at a time. One last clear by Okposo with seconds to go sealed a reasonably impressive win.
"You know they're going to make a push and I thought we made a few soft plays down the stretch," Capuano said. "We had some fatigue set in, but we held up. It's a different mentality than last season, that's for sure."