Islanders outlast Bruins to even series 2-2

Whichever team emerges from this East Division playoff series will have earned their victory and have some scars to show for it.

And after Saturday’s Game 4 at Nassau Coliseum, it’s anyone’s guess whether that team will be the Bruins or the Islanders after the Islanders tied up the series 2-2 with a 4-1 victory in a crucible of a playoff game on Long Island.

“It has been as expected,” said Tuukka Rask, who made 30 saves in another solid performance. “They play a hard game, a heavy game. There’s no free real estate out there and it’s been kind of like everybody expected. I think the physicality has gotten more and more intense as the series has gone on.”

The Islanders broke a 1-1 tie with 6:57 left in the third period on a Mat Barzal goal. Scott Mayfield’s shot from the blue line was deflected high in the air and Barzal batted it out of mid-air past Rask for the 2-1 lead.

From there, the Isles did a good a job locking things down before Casey Cizikas and Jean-Gabriel Pageau added late empty-netters to seal the victory.

It was knock-down, fight-for-your-ice playoff game from the first drop of the puck.

The first period was scoreless, but there was plenty of action in the opening 20 minutes.

The first fight of the series was started at 7:28 by, of all people, Taylor Hall. He took the puck in deep behind the net and, after Scott Mayfield rode him off the puck, the Islander defenseman gave him a little something extra that Hall didn’t like. For the first time in the NHL since he threw down with Derek Dorsett on March 3, 2011, Hall dropped the gloves with the much bigger Mayfield, landed a blow and took cover.

That wasn’t the last bout of the period. After Barzal cross-checked Curtis Lazar in the face, a major scrum broke out. Jarred Tinordi, in for the injured Brandon Carlo, battled heavyweight Matt Martin. Martin landed several rights on top of Tinordi’s helmet before Tinordi took him down.

There were also a couple of glittering scoring chances. The Islanders had the first one off a Charlie McAvoy turnover in the offensive zone. After the cough-up, the puck came back down to Anthony Beauvillier. Beauvillier, who was stopped twice on breakaways by Rask in Game 3, appeared to have Rask sliding the wrong way on his backhand chance but Rask managed to get his pad on the attempt.

As good a chance as that was for the Isles, they could at least tip their cap to Rask for coming up with the save. On his chance, David Pastrnak was left to look up to the heavens and wonder how he could have missed what looked like a sure goal.

Patrice Bergeron appeared to freeze Semyon Varlamov and the entire Islander team before sliding a perfect pass over to Pastrnak. From about eight feet in front of a wide open net from the bottom of the left circle, Pastrnak somehow hit the far post and Varlamov was able to cover it up.

But the B’s did grab the first lead of the game on a power-play goal by David Krejci, his first of the playoffs, at 3:57 of the second. A Pastrnak shot rattled around the crease and, with Brad Marchand and Bergeron battling in the crease, the loose puck came out to Krejci to pop it home.

Islander coach Barry Trotz challenged that Marchand’s stick that was wedged between Varlamov’s left skate and the post constituted interference. It was a coin flip challenge and Trotz lost, which gave the B’s the goal and another power play.

But the B’s did not have the same urgency on the second PP and, shortly after that expired, the Isles evened it up at 6:38. What could have been a turning point in the B’s favor swung the game the other way.

“The second unit, I was disappointed,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “They don’t get a lot of time after the first unit but it was an opportunity for them to step up and no one wanted to shoot the puck. They practice a lot and we have certain people we want to run it through, but every one of them refused to shoot the puck. … It just kills your momentum.”

On the equalizer, Lazar battled Barzal all along the right side of the Boston zone, the standout Islander center drew a penalty on the Bruin centerman. But on the delayed call, Barzal took the puck behind the net and fed Kyle Palmieri out front to tie it up.

That gave the Isles, who held a 14-10 shot advantage in the second, some steam and tensions started to run high on a puck scrum in the corner to Rask’s left. On the outskirts, Barzal cross-checked Krejci three times before Krejci turned around and stuck him hard between the legs, with Barzal going down in a heap in pain.

The refs called it a spearing major but upon video review they relented and gave Krejci just a two-minute minor for slashing at 11:16 and the B’s were able to kill it off.

“I wasn’t happy about it,” said Krejci. “I thought he went down pretty easy. But it is what it is.”

The refs did miss a few calls against the Islanders, including a Jordan Eberle high-stick on Jeremy Lauzon and Brock Nelson hit on Charlie McAvoy right between the 7 and 3 into the boards.

“I certainly think with the infractions, we haven’t had a lot of calls go our way, the borderline ones,” said Cassidy. “Even the non-borderline ones. I mean Chris Wagner almost got his head taken off in front of the net … they see what they see and you can’t do anything about it. You hope that comes around and you earn your calls. We’re not going to bitch about it. It is what is.”

Now they’ll head back to Boston for the all-important hinge Game 5 at the Garden on Monday. Either they go back to Long Island for Wednesday’s Game 6 with a chance to close the Coliseum for good, or they’ll be fighting for their own lives.

“Right now, I’m very excited to go back and play in front of our fans again,” said Krejci. “We’re definitely going to use their energy. It’s Game 5. Playoffs are about making adjustments. We’ll do some adjustments, I’m sure they will as well. But we’re going to have to play our best game of the season.”

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