Poor defense dooms Boston Bruins in Game 5 loss

The Bruins really let this one slip away. Despite dominating the vast majority of the first and third periods, the Bruins fell 5-4 to the New York Islanders on Monday night in Boston. The loss puts the Bruins in a 3-2 hole heading back to Long Island for Game 6, which they’ll need to win to extend their season. Terrible penalties, awful defending in front of their own net, and mental errors doomed the Bruins in this loss that puts the Bruins into a really tough spot moving forward.

The game started off with a bang, with David Pastrnak blowing a one-timer by Semyon Varlamov, who has made a habit of letting in an early goal game in these playoffs. This shift was the beginning of one of the biggest themes of the night, that at 5-on-5, the Bruins are the superior team, and that the Islanders have no answer for the Patrice Bergeron line. Brad Marchand makes the play down low to create a turnover, Charlie McAvoy makes the right pass, and Pasta buries it.

The Bruins controlled the rest of the period but were unable to get another past Varlamov, who did his usual routine of turning into a brick wall after letting in an early goal. And then all the Bruins hard work went to waste on a ticky-tack slashing penalty called on Sean Kuraly. Credit to the Islanders, they took advantage and scored on a nasty wrister from Mathew Barzal, but for the refs to decide the minimal stickwork by Kuraly was worthy of penalizing after everything they let go in the first 19 minutes was questionable.

In the second period, the Islanders would take the lead on yet another power play. This time, it was Matt Grzelcyk cross checking Leo Komarov in front of the net after Komarov got tangled up with Charlie McAvoy. Did it need to be called? Once again, no, but after seeing the ghost call on Kuraly, Grzelcyk should have been more careful. And so of course, the Islanders cashed in again immediately after a terrible turnover from Sean Kuraly and a lucky bounce off of Connor Clifton’s skates.

The momentum of the game had completely shifted and Bruins fans across New England had to feel like they had been on this roller coaster before. They control the game early but don’t put New York away, and they grind their way back into the game and steal it from Boston’s fingers. But Brad Marchand had other thoughts. Taking a David Pastrnak pass in the neutral zone, Marchand just completely undressed the New York defense and tucked it past Varlamov, tying the game at two apiece and sending the TD Garden into a frenzy.

But of course, the momentum didn’t last, and the Islanders seized control of the game. First, some terrible defensive zone play by the Bruins led to an easy Josh Bailey goal, giving the Islanders a 3-2 lead.

Who is Mike Reilly defending there? He’s completely lost, and Bailey made him pay. There’s no excuse to be that far away from a guy standing directly in front of the net. And then, to make matters worse, less than a minute later Chris Wagner committed a stupid, inexcusable high sticking penalty on Barzal to give the Islanders another power play. And wouldn’t you know it, Jordan Eberle put their first shot by Tuukka Rask, who didn’t seem to give very much effort on the goal at all. He stayed way too deep in his crease and Eberle just picked the top corner. Two goals on two shots, and it felt like the game was over at 4-2.

In the third, the Bruins turned to rookie Jeremy Swayman in net to see if a goalie change could give the team a spark. However, it didn’t get off to a very good start. Less than two minutes into the period the Islanders capitalized off yet another defensive zone turnover, leading to a wide open Brock Nelson in front of a cold Jeremy Swayman. Nelson potted it, giving the Islanders what would end up being the winning goal.

But the Bruins weren’t done yet. David Pastrnak drew a hooking penalty to give the Bruins their second power play of the night, and capped it off himself with another bullet from the circle to close the game to a 5-3 gap. It came off yet another great feed from Charlie McAvoy, whose distribution on the power play has been on point this series on the rare occasions that the Islanders get called for a penalty.

Pastrnak’s second bomb of the night got some life back into the building, but it was David Krejci who really got the crowd going. He gained entry into the offensive zone with just over five minutes remaining and made a play along the wall to get the puck back to Craig Smith at the blue line. Smith threw a shot towards goal which was deflected, throwing off Varlamov rebound control. The puck bounced to Krejci who snuck it through Varlamov and just over the line, getting the Bruins back within one at 5-4.

However, they never got over the hump to tie the game despite the crowd rocking for the final five minutes. The Islanders did just enough to win, as always seems to be the case. At this point, it’s pretty clear what is going to determine this series. There’s no debate that the Bruins are the more skilled team. But they keep shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties and terrible turnovers. Of the Islanders five goals, three were on the power play, and even those all came after turnovers by the Bruins. One more came after yet another failed clearing attempt left Brock Nelson alone in the slot.

So of their five goals, only one was not directly created by the Bruins failures. Cut down on those, and its hard to see the Bruins not winning these games. But it’s been fives games of this – clearly it’s not going to stop overnight. The Islanders don’t have the most high end skill, but they are exceptional at making you pay for your mistakes and then beating you into submission in the defensive zone. They play true to their identity and don’t stray from their game. They’re letting the Bruins beat themselves, and it’s working.

So what has to change for the Bruins going forward? A lot, and not that much at the same time. The first two should be easy: knock it off with the stupid penalties and turnovers. This team is not going to beat the Bruins at 5-on-5 without Boston giving them easy looks. They just aren’t. Stay out of the box and the Bruins will win. It’s that simple. Taking away empty net goals, the Islanders have scored 14 goals in this series. Six of them are on the powerplay. Just stay out of the box. And while coach Bruce Cassidy has every right to complain about the officiating thus far in the series, the Bruins are hurting themselves more than the refs. Yes, some of the calls and no-calls have been terrible. But the Bruins need to do a better job of not putting themselves in positions for the refs to even have to think about making a call.

As for lineup changes, I think the whole fourth line needs to go. They’re bringing absolutely nothing to the table at either end of the ice. Chris Wagner had a nice wraparound attempt in Game 4, but I can’t think of a single other offensive opportunity generated by the line of Lazar, Kuraly and Wagner that I actually thought might go in. Not only have the results not been there, but the process has been ugly too. I would put Wagner on the bench, move Kuraly to center, bring in Trent Frederic and then find a right wing. I’d rather have Jake DeBrusk back in the lineup than Wagner – at least his speed has the ability to create plays.

And in goal, don’t overthink it. Go back to Tuukka Rask. Was he great in Game 5? Nope. He absolutely needs to stop at least one out of Barzal and Eberle’s goals. In the biggest moments, you need your star goalie to keep you alive, and Rask didn’t do that tonight. But putting Jeremy Swayman in for his first playoff start in the raucous Coliseum is a recipe for disaster.

Basically, the Bruins just need to not beat themselves. If the Islanders come out in Game 6 and score four 5-on-5 goals where they just pick the Bruins apart, so be it. But stop giving them easy opportunities on power plays and off turnovers. It just can’t happen. Game 6 is Wednesday on Long Island and the Bruins will be playing for their season. Get ready Boston, it’s going to be a long, anxiety-filled night.

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