Boston Bruins top New York Islanders, move ahead in wild-card race

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  March 26, 2017 at 8:35 AM
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NEW YORK -- The calendar says the NHL playoffs begin April 12.

The Boston Bruins realized the postseason began for them Saturday night.

Riley Nash scored both goals, including the game-winner early in the third period, as the Bruins moved into sole possession of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders at Barclays Center.

"I think everyone in here knew that was the biggest game of the year," Nash said. "We knew it was going to be a really big uphill battle if we lost that one."

The Bruins (39-30-6) and Islanders (35-27-12) entered Saturday tied for the final wild card, but a loss Saturday would have put Boston in a more perilous position than the standings might have indicated.

Not only do the Islanders have a game in hand, but a loss Saturday would have been the fifth in a row for the Bruins, who were outscored 20-11 over the previous four games, and increased the chatter about another late-season collapse costing them a playoff spot.

Boston lost out on the final wild card on a tiebreaker following a 3-8-1 finish last season that included a five-game losing streak from March 15-24. The Bruins missed the playoffs by two points after ending the 2014-15 season in a 5-5-4 rut that began with a six-game losing streak (0-3-3) from March 15-26.

"That was a slide that we obviously didn't want to go on this late in the season," Nash said. "You've got to look at it that we're still alive. We're playing for our lives right now. We feel like we have our fate in our own hands."

Now the Islanders, who made up a three-point gap in the wild card standings by beating a pair of Eastern Conference contenders -- the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins -- in their previous two games, are back in the position of needing a little help to get back into playoff positioning.

"Not much time left -- obviously still enough for us to get in," said Islanders center John Tavares, who scored New York's goal just beyond the midway point of the first period. "Disappointing we didn't get today. We know today was a big game. Could have really put us in a good spot. We'll just keep battling to the end."

Nash scored his first goal 36 seconds after Tavares' tally to steal the momentum from the Islanders, who recorded five of the game's first six shots. The Bruins appeared to take the lead a little more than five minutes later, but Frank Vatrano's goal was waved off because of goaltender interference by David Backes.

The two teams combined for 15 shots during a quiet second period before Bruins center Dominic Moore won a battle for the puck with Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech near center ice. Moore passed to Nash, who beat New York goaltender Thomas Greiss from the left faceoff circle.

The two-goal game was the third of Nash's career. He entered Saturday with five goals this season.

"That's quite the output compared to my season," Nash said with a grin.

The Bruins killed off a pair of penalties later in the third, when Tavares' shot rang off the crossbar during a power play shortly after the midway point. Boston killed off all six penalties it incurred Saturday in improving to 10-10-2 in games in which it scores two goals.

"It's a nice Bruins win," interim coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We've been winning with offense earlier and we've got to be able to do it both ways. You have to be able to win 2-1 hockey games."

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin, who drew the start with number one netminder Tuukka Rask back in Boston because of a lower body injury, recorded 18 saves. He has won his last five starts dating back to Feb. 11.

Greiss made 16 saves for the Islanders.

"It's a tough one to lose," interim Islanders coach Doug Weight said. "Two really big wins on the road really validated us and built us up. But we're right there."

NOTES:

-- The Islanders scratched D Johnny Boychuk (lower body), LW Nikolay Kulemin (lower body) and RW Ryan Strome (broken wrist) as well as G Jean-Francois Berube, D Thomas Hickey and C Alan Quine.

-- In addition to G Tuukka Rask, the Bruins scratched LW Matt Beleskey (family leave) and C Tim Schaller (lower body) as well as D John-Michael Liles and D Joe Morrow. To replace Rask, the Bruins recalled G Zane McIntyre from Providence of the AHL on an emergency basis.

-- The Islanders were denied their first sweep of the Bruins since 2005-06.

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