BOSTON — The Islanders did it the hard way. The thing is, they did it.
"This is a character win," coach Barry Trotz said. "There is no one that has bigger character in our dressing room and is more loved than Casey [Cizikas]. When he came in, our room exploded with guys hugging him."
The identity-setting fourth-line center scored on a breakaway at 14:48 of overtime to give the Islanders — who couldn’t hold a two-goal third-period lead — a road split against the Bruins with a 4-3 win in Game 2 of their East Division second-round series on Monday night before 17,400 at TD Garden.
Cizikas picked up a loose puck that bounced off Boston forward Charlie Coyle’s skate and raced in on Tuukka Rask before beating him on the stick side.
"Just skate as fast as I can and get a shot off, and I was able to beat him," said Cizikas, who scored his first playoff goal since a first-round series against Trotz’s Capitals in 2015.
"That was a heck of a hockey game," Trotz said. "That’s two good teams going nose-to-nose. That’s the type of series I expected going into it and I expect the same when we get back to the Island. They had a lot of momentum from the crowd. We fought through that, and that showed a lot of character."
The series shifts to Nassau Coliseum for Game 3 on Thursday night, with capacity expanded to 12,000.
Cizikas’ overtime winner came shortly after Semyon Varlamov, back in net for the first time since a Game 3 loss to the Penguins in the first round, denied Taylor Hall on a rebound.
Varlamov made 39 saves and Rask stopped 35 shots.
"He was great for us the whole game," said Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who capped a three-goal second period with a power-play tap-in at the left post to make it 3-1 at 17:21. "And so to come up like that and do that big save, I think it just gives us that little boost. To see that your goalie has your back is massive."
Patrice Bergeron’s one-timer brought the Bruins within 3-2 at 10:34 of the third period. Brad Marchand scored the equalizer on an unscreened power-play shot past Varlamov’s glove at 15:06 after the Islanders were caught with too many men on the ice.
"You’re going to expect a push," Josh Bailey said. "We want to stay aggressive in those situations. But again, they’re a good team. That’s the way it goes sometimes. But a win’s a win."
The Islanders went 2-for-3 with the man advantage and the Bruins were 1-for-2.
Trotz turned back to Varlamov after Ilya Sorokin stopped 35 of 39 shots in Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Game 1.
The Bruins took a 1-0 lead on their first shot as Coyle collected a turnover in the Islanders’ zone, skated around defenseman Nick Leddy and tucked the puck past Varlamov’s outstretched left pad at 2:38 of the first period.
The goal was not Varlamov’s fault, but it mirrored the early, questionable goals he surrendered in losses in Games 2 and 3 to the Penguins. But Varlamov stopped the next 14 shots the rest of the first period and all 10 in the second period.
Bailey tied the score at 1 with a power-play goal at 6:52 of the second period as his centering feed deflected in off defenseman Jeremy Lauzon. Kyle Palmieri stuffed the puck in at the left post to make it 2-1 at 11:00.
Beyond Varlamov’s goaltending and Cizikas’ overtime goal, a key for the Islanders was having all four lines aggressively creating chances. They have struggled to find that four-line balance in the playoffs.
Mathew Barzal remains without a goal in the playoffs, but he had four shots, and his top line with Jordan Eberle and Leo Komarov were constant threats.
"It’s just building momentum as a group," Cizikas said. "You see the line before you work and battling, taking hits to make plays. You want to follow that up with a big shift. I thought we did that line after line tonight."