The higher-ups at the National Hockey League have dented the wallets of a handful of Boston Bruins personnel during their second-round series against the New York Islanders. They handed out their largest amount of fines on Tuesday: $25,000 for Bruce Cassidy after he sounded off on the head-scratching officiating in Game 5 and $5,000 for Nick Ritchie for his elbow to Scott Mayfield — another obvious penalty that went uncalled by the men in stripes.
Now they enter hostile territory for an elimination game at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night. And one has to wonder if the officiating crew and a war of words between Cassidy and Barry Trotz have indeed ‘poked the bear’ as Boston’s season hangs in the balance.
And no, the Bruins won’t face the New York Saints. But rather an Islanders bunch primed to make their second straight appearance in the NHL’s Final Four.
“We’re playing a team that has a very respected coaching staff and management who have won a Stanley Cup [elsewhere]. But I think they sell a narrative over there that it’s more like the New York Saints and not the New York Islanders,” Cassidy said following Boston’s 5-4 loss in Game 5. “They play hard and they play the right way, but I feel we’re the same way. And the calls that are getting called on us do not get called on them, and I don’t know why.”
Cassidy will never know about the obvious calls his team never received during the first five games. But the Bruins need to turn all the missed infractions, fines, and Trotz’s comments — ranging from Patrice Bergeron ‘cheating at the faceoff dot’ to channeling Craig Berube two years ago with the ‘the least penalized team in the league’ soundbite — into motivation heading into a must-win Game 6.
“I guess more of what I said last night was in terms of the Islanders — a little gamesmanship with Barry and his comments towards Bergy. I’m always going to protect my captain,” Cassidy said shortly after receiving a $25,000 invoice from the NHL. “Listen, we’re in front of the cameras a lot…It’s an entertainment business. It’s been a good series. There’s been a lot of that back and forth, so that’s where a lot of that was directed.
“Obviously I felt that some calls didn’t go our way that have gone against us in terms of high-sticks,” Cassidy added. “I know specifically there was on Wagner, and there definitely was one on Bergy last night behind the net that didn’t get called. I voiced that, and I was held accountable for it.”
Cassidy hopes to receive the benefit of the doubt with the officiating crew on Wednesday. But the Bruins have a plethora of troubling areas to address before that.
Even with their 5v5 dominance, the Bruins put themselves in this position. They surely miss Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller on the penalty kill. Neither will suit up to help the struggling shorthanded unit after watching the Isles power play convert on three of four chances in Game 5.
The Bruins won’t have Curtis Lazar (lower-body) centering the fourth line either following his second-period collision with Adam Pelech. The Bruins face significant lineup decisions beyond who replaces Lazar. In fact, their biggest lineup question lies in goal.
Tuukka Rask watched the third period on the bench as Cassidy benched him for ‘maintenance.’ He labored through a lingering injury sustained earlier this year, allowing four goals on 16 shots in 40 minutes of work. The makeshift defense without a pair of their steady right-shot blue-liners in Carlo and Miller hung Rask out to dry more often than not. They didn’t provide Jeremy Swayman any favors either in his first career postseason appearance, delivering a costly turnover that led directly to Brock Nelson’s tally 1:59 into the final stanza.
We won’t know until Wednesday’s on-ice session on who Cassidy will tab between the pipes for Game 6. Yet, the fifth-year bench boss appeared optimistic about Rask’s availability for Wednesday night.
“He’s been better than he was yesterday, but we weren’t good enough in front of him as well, let’s face it,” Cassidy said of Rask’s Game 5 outing. “You need your goaltender to bail you out. It didn’t happen yesterday. It has happened in other games, and it happened in the previous series. So we’re not dissatisfied with Tuukka’s play. There are some health issues. We know that. He missed some time this year. We’re not going to get into all that on whether it’s affected his game. There’s a lot of games in a row he’s played. At some point, that could be an issue in the playoffs.”
The Bruins can’t risk starting Rask if he’s not as close to 100 percent as possible. Surely, they don’t want to tab Swayman to start his first career playoff game with the season on the line, but they may have no other choice.
All the developments over the past day provide different layers of adversity for Cassidy and company. The Isles, officiating and injuries proverbially poked the bear heading into Game 6. Heading into their third elimination road game in the last two years, it’s up to the veteran-laden group to once again respond to these tribulations and force a Game 7 for 7:30 p.m. Friday night at TD Garden.
“I think our guys have been through it, and the core group has been through it in other playoff series,” Cassidy said. “They know what’s at stake. We need to go win a game. That’s it. There’s nothing else other than we’re not looking ahead or behind now either. We’re going to New York to win a game, and we have to.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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