BROOKLYN, N.Y. — No other way to put it, Saturday was a must-win for the Bruins against the Islanders, who were fresh off a big win against the Stanely Cup champion Penguins 24 hours prior.
It may have been ugly, but the Bruins found a way to down the Islanders and take over sole possession of the second wild card spot. With their four-game losing streak snapped, interim coach Bruce Cassidy and company at least stopped the proverbial bleeding after a grueling week against teams fighting for playoff positioning.
Still, the Bruins are going to need help with every team on the playoff bubble – the Maple Leafs, Isles, Lightning and recently resurgent Hurricanes – having at least one game in hand on them. Of course, the Bruins need to help their own cause themselves by going on a good seven-game run if they want to avoid the golf course again in April
Here is what we learned from the B’s 2-1 win at the Barclays Center.
An unlikely savior
Sometimes, a name outside of the mainstream needs to have the spotlight. On this night, Riley Nash stole the show.
Fresh off a two-point effort in the Bruins’ 6-3 loss to the Lightning, Nash one-upped himself. The Bruins are thankful for that as he scored both of their goals, including the game-winner in the third period where he took a feed from fellow linemate Dominic Moore, found space in the slot and sniped another one past Islanders Thomas Greiss.
“Like I said before, your leaders lead and your followers follow, and he did a real good job,” Cassidy said about Nash. “And he’s got a real good shot so hopefully he uses that a little bit more. But, you can’t say enough about those goals – we needed them tonight.”
Nash entered Thursday’s game against the Lightning with just four goals on the season. With three in the last two games, he has nearly doubled that total.
“It’s quite the output compared to my season so far,” Nash laughed about his recent offensive production, “so I’ll take it. I’m glad they finally came.”
A perfect penalty kill
That’s more like it.
After struggling the last few games, the Bruins top ranked penalty kill was put to the test. For one-fifth of the game, the Bruins had to kill off an Islanders power play. Six shorthanded attempts led to six successful kills against the Isles’ 25th ranked power play.
From timely stops from Anton Khudobin (18 saves) in place of Tuukka Rask to the defense holding the Islanders to the perimeter, the Bruins penalty kill was pretty much flawless. In a game that saw questionable calls and self-inflicting penalties like too many men on the ice in the first period and Torey Krug shooting the puck over the glass in a rather head-scratching decision in the second, the B’s showed why their PK has been in the top five in the NHL all-season long.
“We talked about doing a better job defensively as a whole, not just 5-on-5 but also on the penalty kill. We got away from that the last few games and it hurt us in the game,” said Patrice Bergeron, who led all Bruins forwards in time on ice (21:35) with 5:46 coming shorthanded.
“Tonight was a perfect example of us staying poised. We took some penalties, and they have some skill over there, but I thought we denied them for the most part.”
Surprise! Another goaltender interference review goes against the Bruins
Any goaltender interference challenge is bound to go against the Bruins, seemingly.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the first period, Frank Vatrano appeared to have given the Bruins a 2-1 lead with a power play goal. But guess what? That goal was waived off after David Backes made contact with Greiss in midst of a battle for positioning with an Islanders defense. Though it appeared the contact was initiated by the Islander defender with Greiss inches outside of his crease, the goal was waved off.
That call didn’t go their way. But the Bruins persevered through a couple of other tough penalty calls going against them and grinded out the win against an Islanders team playing their second game of a back-to-back.
“You have to stay with it,” Bergeron said. “Like I said, it’s one of those things where you have to stay in the moment and stay in the game no matter what is happening during the game, and that’s how you get results. That’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity like that.”
A future tiebreaker that could go the Bruins way
Saturday’s win over the Islanders coupled with the Maple Leafs loss to the Sabres puts the Bruins one point in back of Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins currently have three more regulation/overtime wins over the Leafs, which is the first tiebreaker.
A little early to be thinking about tiebreakers still but a future talking point nonetheless.