After a night in which he was bruised, battered, and even speared, Mathew Barzal showed the Boston Bruins how to properly use a hockey stick — batting home the game-winner with 6:57 left in regulation in an Islanders 3-1 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Division final on Staurday night to tie their series with the Boston Bruins at two games apiece.
With the game tied at one, the winner came from an innocent shot from the point by Scott Mayfield, but it immediately took a deflection off a Bruins defender’s skate and right into the path of Barzal, who met the puck the moment it hit the ice and lasered it past an unsuspecting Tuukka Rask to blow the lid off Nassau Coliseum.
“A little bit of luck, everything involved, little bit of hand-eye,” Barzal said of his goal. “The puck takes a weird skip and I don’t think anybody knew where it was.”
The Islanders proceeded to add a pair of empty-net goals from Casey Cizikas and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to put it beyond a shadow of a doubt as the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 on Monday.
“Just the biggest game for us so far,” Barzal said on tying the series. “We go down 3-1 to these guys headed back to TD Garden, that’s a death sentence. That was a huge game for us tonight. Everyone brought it.”
After being bested in Game 3, Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov was almost impenetrable, making 28 saves on 29 shots to keep the Islanders in it once again.
But early proceedings featured more fisticuffs than major scoring chances or big saves as the bad blood that comes within any playoff series spilled over in the first period.
Scott Mayfield and Taylor Hall dropped the gloves after the two tangled in the Islanders’ zone before Matt Martin and Jarred Tinordi got together following a Mathew Barzal high-sticking penalty on Curtis Lazar.
Both times, the fighter in the blue and orange trunks came out on top.
“I just think they’re happenstance,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “Hall sort of initiated the first one and I’ll have to look at the second one again. Tinordi came off the blue line to engage with Martin. As much as you want to put it on us, they were looking for some momentum and they didn’t get any.”
The Islanders worked out some major chances in the latter stages of the frame — most notably when Josh Bailey found Anthony Beauvillier alone in front off a Bruins turnover, but the young winger could not deke his way around Rask.
The biggest chance of the period though fell to Boston star David Pastrnak, who had a wide-open net off a delayed feed from Patrice Bergeron. With a wide-open net at the left circle with three minutes left, he hit the right post before the puck nestled behind the pads of Varlamov.
The Bruins would break the ice 3:57 into the second period following a Martin holding penalty as David Krejci snapped a wrister through traffic.
Trotz challenged the goal, citing Brad Marchand’s stick was wedged between Varlamov and his post, but a quick review confirmed the goal and put the Islanders back on the penalty kill.
“Varly couldn’t move his leg and that’s what we told the referee that he had his stick there and he couldn’t move his leg and that should be interference,” Trotz said. “We got it wrong.”
The hosts would not only kill the penalty, but come up with a robust answer less than three minutes after Krejci’s goal. After Barzal weaved and marauded up and down the right boards, he managed to work the puck down low and center it to an open Kyle Palmieri, who one-timed his doorstep chance into the back of the net.
“It was big,” Palmieri said. “You get an opportunity to get some momentum off that penalty kill and those guys did a great job. It was nice to come back down the other way and tie it up.”
Krejci took out his frustrations on Barzal with 8:44 left in the period when — during a scrum in the corner of the Bruins’ zone in which the Islanders’ center cross-checked the Boston forward — Krejci speared Barzal in the groin.
After initially calling a major penalty, the officials puzzlingly shaved it down to a two-minute minor after a review.
“I’m alright now. I was a little surprised,” Barzal said. “I haven’t seen the clip yet but I felt it was a little vicious but it’s the refs call, a judgement call from them. I thought it was a tad vicious but it’s up to the refs and it doesn’t matter now.”
They would do little with that man-advantage and another one that spanned between the second and third periods when Charlie McAvoy high-sticked Beauvillier.
The third period was largely cagy with a see-saw of possession swings not generating many big chances. But out of almost nothing, Mayfield’s shot from the point was deflected up to the left post of Rask where Barzal was situated perfectly — batting the puck into the back of the net to put the Islanders head with 6:57 left in regulation.
While the Bruins threw everything they could at the Islanders, the host’s patented resolute defense gave them nothing; not even sustained zone time as constant pressure and a blitzing forecheck delayed Boston’s plan to pull their goalie.
With 1:03 remaining and with that net empty, Cizikas put the cherry on top of the Islanders’ victory with a bullseye of a backhander from the right boards in the neutral zone before Pageau added some sprinkles with 2.4 seconds to go to send the Coliseum faithful into one last frenzy on Saturday night.
“We knew how big of a game it was, you look at the last game, you don’t want to lose two at home and we were ready to go,” Palmieri said. “We came in and from the drop of the puck, we were ready to go and we gave our fans something to cheer about. the atmosphere was incredible and it will continue to be like that for the playoffs.”