BOSTON — After this latest episode of Parity Theater, in which it again was apparent that the difference between NHL teams on any given night is almost nil, the Islanders thought long and hard about which way they are going. They decided, as captain Anders Lee said, “We’re playing just fine.”
Despite having lost to the Bruins, 2-1, in a shootout on Thursday night, the Islanders determined that they had played a solid road game.
Better yet, they now are headed in an entirely different and friendly direction: Home. A real home. Their next game is on Long Island, which is the best medicine for even the slightest disappointment.
“That place is awesome,” Matt Martin said of NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, where they will play an official game Saturday for the first time in three years. “You look back at the last season we were there, that atmosphere was incredible every night. You felt like you were winning games just based off your crowd. Sometimes, as a visiting team, you feel like you’re getting dominated in a hockey game and you look up at the scoreboard and it’s zero-zero and the shots are even.”
Despite playing without Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy (Long Beach), the Bruins are tough to beat on their ice. Their ability to hang in there is testimony to how hard it is for anyone to pull away from anyone else in the current NHL. Tuukka Rask made numerous big saves and got the benefit of a referee’s call in overtime that waved off a potential goal by Mathew Barzal.
Robin Lehner also was outstanding in the Islanders’ net, making 35 saves and stoning the Bruins until Ryan Donato beat him in the fourth shootout round. So the Islanders got a point, which was half disappointing and half fulfilling.
“I think you have to understand that’s the parity of this league, that’s the NHL,” said Lee, who gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 12:17 of the first period. “It comes down to an inch or two or a bounce. You just keep your head up, keep focused. Understand it’s a long year.”
One troubling aspect for the Islanders is their power play. They had only one shot at it Thursday night and did not connect, extending their drought to 0-for-12 in the past six games. Soon after that opportunity, in the second period, they allowed a power-play goal as the Bruins’ David Pastrnak — who entered with a share of the NHL lead in goals with 19 — made a crisp backhand pass and Brad Marchand whipped the puck past Lehner.
The Islanders briefly celebrated 1:13 into overtime when Barzal put the puck in the Bruins’ net, but the goal was disallowed when it was ruled that Anthony Beauvillier had crashed into Rask. “The referees saw it from all angles. I’m sure they made the right call,” Barzal said.
Barry Trotz was not so sure. “They said Beau went in there unimpeded. But really he went in there because the puck was there and I felt that their player who was sliding knocked him into the net,” he said.
It’s all part of a long season and a tough grind. “It’s a big point,” Trotz said. “That may be the one that gets you to the promised land. I always used the hockey gods analogy. They test you. Are you going to stay with it? Do you believe in what you’re doing? If you don’t get the results, you’ve just got to take a breath and say, ‘Stay with it, stay with it.’ We went for it, and I like that.”
On Saturday night, they will go for it in a setting that is almost beyond description. “I love that building. I love playing there,” Josh Bailey said of the Coliseum. “It seemed to get a bad rap from people once in a while because it was a little older. But the atmosphere that goes in that rink, I think, is unmatched around the league.”