The Bruins had three power-play opportunities Saturday; the New York Islanders had two.
The Bruins have gone on the man advantage 28 times in seven games this postseason — third behind Tampa Bay (34) and Carolina (30). They’ve been shorthanded 32 times, third behind the Lightning and Hurricanes.
So what’s with the whining?
“I think the whole playoffs we haven’t gotten very many calls to put us on the power play,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after a 4-1 loss allowed the Islanders to tie the best-of-7 second-round series 2-2 heading to Boston for Game 5 Monday.
“I certainly think the infractions, we haven’t gotten a lot of calls go our way with the borderline ones,” Cassidy continued. “You look at even some non-borderline. I mean, Chris Wagner almost got his head taken off the other night in front of the net on a high stick. You look at it and you see the referee looking at it, and they don’t call it.
“So they see what they see. And you can’t do anything about it. You hope that comes around, you keep playing hard, earn your calls. We’re not going to bitch about it. It is what it is. And, you know, hopefully we’ll start getting the ones that we deserve and take advantage of it.”
Bruce Cassidy’s full remarks on the officiating: pic.twitter.com/RsmM2yfCGE
— Evan Marinofsky (@EvanMarinofsky) June 6, 2021
Cassidy is now second on the Bruins’ all-time playoff wins list for coaches. He’s won a Jack Adams Award and coached in the Stanley Cup final. But it wasn’t until now that he officially became a grizzled, full-fledged veteran NHL coach because he pulled out the old “we’re not going to complain” line after sending 30-40 seconds complaining.
But I ask again: why?
Maybe Cassidy is trying to take some of the heat off his players, who clearly were worn down by the Islanders forecheck (perhaps New York’s lone skill it does better than Boston) and didn’t land a shot on net in the final 6:18 of regulation, a stretch that started not long after Mathew Barzal gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
Obviously affected by the absences of Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller, with Jarred Tinordi inserted into the lineup, and with Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon and Mike Reilly asked to do more than is typically required, the Bruins were pounded trying to make plays out of their own end, and hemmed in for stretches as well. The forwards, knowing the Bruins’ situation on the back end, could’ve done a much better of helping out and then generating some speed through the neutral zone.
It’s shaping up to be another series like the 2019 Cup final when Matt Grzelcyk missed several games, Zdeno Chara was seriously banged up and the St. Louis Blues banged and bruised their way to a seven-game victory.
At the other end, the headline was David Pastrnak missing an open net that stretched from Long Island to Prague in the first period. But the Bruins didn’t lose because of that one gaffe. They scored on just one of their power plays and didn’t do nearly enough to get to the inside, as Cassidy likes to say. After getting traffic in front of Semyon Varlamov for much of the first half of the game, the Bruins seemingly got frustrated and made life easier on the New York goalie. Again, cast Varlamov in Jordan Binnington’s role and suddenly it’s a 2019 redux.
“We weren’t willing to shoot enough, at least to get to their goaltender,” Cassidy said. “We paid the price for it. We didn’t score 5-on-5. Just turned down way too many shots.”
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To his credit, Cassidy owned up for the Bruins’ mistakes. But he also pulled the “complain about the refs” card, which made one wonder if Cassidy was harkening back to 2019 as well. Craig Berube beat him to the punch in that series, arguing the Blues were getting called for too many penalties. Whether his words had an impact on the Tyler Bozak non-call on his trip of Noel Acciari in Game 5 or it was just a distraction to loosen up his players for their eventually triumphant performance, maybe Cassidy decided to steal from the Berube playbook.
More than a series about officiating, this is becoming a referendum on the Bruins’ defense depth. By now Lauzon and Jakub Zboril (who might be too injured to play right now — we don’t know his status) should be able to step up and eat minutes when a couple of veterans are out of the lineup. That’s what this whole season was about, getting the younger defensemen experience. Instead, we have Lauzon making errant passes, one of which turned into a game-losing overtime breakaway in Game 2. Instead, we have Clifton getting caught out of position at crucial moments and often going for big hits rather than playing sound defense, a far cry from the start of this series when he was playing within himself and looking like he was ready to pick up the slack for Carlo’s absence.
Cassidy’s gambit might work and the Bruins might see an officiating advantage in the latter stages of this series. The players, hearing their coach has their backs on this front, might loosen up and get back to playing their game rather than being distracted by the Islanders’ attempts to knock them into oblivion. Most importantly, Carlo and/or Miller might get back in the lineup and bring the transition game back to respectability.
Regardless, if the Bruins lose this series — with their advantage in skill, speed, and experience — they won’t be able to blame the refs. It’ll be because they let the Islanders pound them and then outplay them when they weren’t deep enough on the back end.