From a near-impossible angle on the left boards, Brad Marchand sniped the overtime winner over the glove of Semyon Varlamov 3:36 into the extra period to lift the Boston Bruins to a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 series lead over the New York Islanders in Game 3 of the Eastern Division Final from Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.
“That’s a seeing-eye puck that hits a one-inch hole,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s a shot [Varlamov] will want back but he’ll let it go. No different from what he’s done many, many times before.”
The anticlimactic ending in terms of the fashion in which the goal was scored was unbefitting of the goaltending duel that was put on display as Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask came out the victor with 28 saves compared to Varlamov’s 39 stops on 41 shots.
The Islanders sent the game to overtime by scoring the regulation equalizer with 5:26 left in the third period when Islanders star center Mathew Barzal was able to stuff home a chance from behind the net.
“I was yelling,” Barzal said after the puck went in the net. “Just happy to score.”
That first line created some early chances in the overtime period, specifically two minutes in when Jordan Eberle’s shot was rebounded right to Barzal, but the close attempt was stopped by Rask.
“Tuukka made a great save,” Barzal said. “I was in tight and wanted to sneak one five-hole but he was there all night. He was big for them.”
It was the last attempts of an offensively frustrating evening for the Islanders, who once again — and keeping up with an overarching theme of their postseason — yielded another early goal, resorting to another night of catch-up.
After a Barzal turnover coaxed by Taylor Hall in the neutral zone, Boston sustained pressure in the Islanders’ zone before Craig Smith wired a wrister, from Hall, over the glove hand of Varlamov on the Bruins’ second shot of the night 5:52 into the game.
While Smith would hit iron later in the period, the Islanders responded well to falling behind, outshooting the Bruins 7-4 in the first — yet they couldn’t get past Rask, including a breakaway from the red-hot Anthony Beauvillier that the Bruins goalie was able to blocker away.
It took some time for the Islanders to find any semblance of crispness in their offensive game, but seven minutes into the second period, they found it as the first line built some momentum to work a chance to defenseman Scott Mayfield, who hit the post short-side on a shot from the right circle. Moments later on a power play, Beauvillier was denied on the doorstep on a one-time chance by Rask.
The Islanders kept coming, but a power move from Barzal and a chance in close from Pageau were the next big chances turned away as the Islanders continued to probe.
At the other end, Varlamov was no slouch as he made a crucial save on David Krejci, sliding over to cut off an open net on a cross-ice one-timed set-up.
Into the third, the Islanders’ comeback couldn’t get off the ground as the Bruins continued to put the clamps down defensively. Second chances were limited and whatever did get through to Rask, he turned away.
Penalties to Andy Greene and Josh Bailey didn’t help the Islanders sustain much momentum, either — but the ability to kill both of them did provide a spark.
“[Boston’s] power play was scary tonight and that’s where Varly kept us in,” Trotz said. “Their power play looked really dangerous and they had a lot of good looks and Varly kept us in it.”
Finally, with 5:26 remaining, Barzal jammed home his first of the playoffs after a couple of whacks at it, finally allowing for the Coliseum to blow its top in celebration. The opportunity came off a shot that missed the net from Kyle Palmieri, but the deflection allowed Barzal to cut behind the goal, and instead of wrapping around, he stopped on a dime and came back toward the left side of Rask’s goal.
“I thought he had lots of jump in his game. He was dangerous,” Trotz said of Barzal. “We had some guys going tonight. He was one of them.”
A little over two minutes later, Beauvillier was sent in alone on Rask for a chance to win it, but his backhander from in close was right at the Boston netminder.
With 2:15 to go, the Islanders received another golden chance to pull out a win in regulation when Sean Kuraly was called for a cross-check, but Rask resumed his role as a stalwart to force extra hockey.
Now the Islanders face a must-win Game 4 on Saturday to tie up the series before it heads back to Boston for Game 5.
“These are two teams that are fairly evenly matched. We’re playing nose-to-nose, blue-collar hockey and it’s not going to be easy,” Trotz said. “The hard way is going to be the only way in this series. There was no easy ice… you have to fight and claw for every inch of real estate out there. There’s no panic. We were in the same situation before and we look forward. We’ll try to correct a couple things, reset, and go at it Saturday. We’ll need our best effort from everybody then.”