The Boston Bruins have needed no one’s help to play lazy, lackadaisical, .500 hockey since mid-January. But Saturday afternoon against the New York Islanders, they got a little help from the referees.
A possibly uncalled icing penalty late in the third led to a tie-breaking goal by center John Tavares, and Evgeni Nabokov saved 32 of 34 shots to secure a 3-2 victory over the Bruins at the TD Garden. Tuukka Rask left midway through the second with an undisclosed injury.
The Bruins now lead the Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division by just three points with 19 games left, including one against the Senators.
Bruins Lose Focus Late in Third
The Bruins appeared headed for at least a point midway through the third, having tied the game 2-2 on a typically dazzling goal by Tyler Seguin. David Krejci won a faceoff in his zone, then fed it to Zdeno Chara. Chara bounced a pass to Seguin off the boards in the neutral zone, and Seguin eluded both defenseman Andrew MacDonald and Nabokov to tie the game at 7:29.
But with about five minutes left in the game, Johnny Boychuk in his first game back post-concussion rocketed the puck from behind the Bruins’ goal line the entire length of the ice. Both Seguin and Milan Lucic sprinted to try to beat the icing call, but no referee signaled that either had touched the puck.
Without an indication from the referee, the Bruins expected an icing call when left winger Matt Moulson touched the puck in his own zone. But no call occurred, and the confused Bruins allowed Moulson a free pass through the neutral zone and into their right circle. Moulson fired on goal, and Tavares tipped it in at 4:29 for a 3-2 lead.
The Bruins pulled Tim Thomas with 1:20 left in the game, and though they won a few faceoffs and got off a few good shots, Nabokov held firm, snapping a three-game winless streak and posting his best game in nearly three weeks. The Bruins out-shot the Islanders 34-25, but Nabokov was easily the best goaltender of the three.
Thomas Relieves Rask in Second, Gives Up Power Play Goal
Left winger Matt Martin took a slapshot at Rask nine minutes into the second period, and Rask kicked his left leg out to deflect. The puck sailed wide of the goal, but Rask immediately fell to the ice in pain. Teammates helped Rask off, and Claude Julien announced after the game that Rask will sit out the team’s two-game road trip beginning Sunday against the conference-leading Rangers.
Thomas came on in relief of Rask, stopping a quick shot from MacDonald, then settled in as a Bruins power play shifted the game to the Islanders’ zone.
With just under five minutes left in the second, Adam McQuaid was called for tripping, giving the Islanders a power play of their own. They needed fewer than 30 seconds to capitalize, with Tavares skating into the right circle, then passing to Frans Nielsen just to the right of the crease. Nielsen then slid the puck to Moulson in front of Thomas for the goal and a 2-1 lead.
Bruins Strike First, Islanders Answer
A slashing penalty against Josh Bailey with just over six minutes left in the first canceled a roughing call against Shawn Thornton and gave the Bruins their second power play of the game. Good forechecking kept the puck in the Islanders’ zone for an extended period of the power play, and Joe Corvo eventually received the puck just outside the left circle.
Corvo passed to Brian Rolston in the slot, who one-timed the puck to Lucic to the left of the crease. Lucic quickly shifted the puck to his left, then snapped it under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead at 15:10. The assist gave Rolston his first point as a Bruin.
The Islanders answered two minutes later, however, when Nielsen entered the Bruins’ zone from the left side with Bailey opposite, then cut laterally across the ice. Both McQuaid and Greg Zanon turned towards Nielsen, allowing Bailey to skate behind them and towards Rask. Nielsen threaded a pass through to Bailey, and Bailey slid the puck under Rask’s pads to tie the game 1-1 at 17:36.
Bruins Recall Hutchinson, Face Grueling Schedule
Rask’s injury comes right before the Bruins’ schedule gets tough. Boston gets two consecutive days off just once for the rest of the regular season, so they recalled Providence goalie Michael Hutchinson (6-11, 2.62 GAA in 18 games).
Bruins Fans should expect to see a lot more Thomas in the next few weeks.