There’s only one explanation for Islanders’ loss to Bruins

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Sometimes there is no explanation.

Sometimes it is just hockey.

Otherwise, how would you explain the fact that on a night when the Islanders did as good a job as possible blanketing and denying the omnipotent Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak line, it was still Marchand who recorded the winner … and in overtime, no less?

And how would you explain Semyon Varlamov, who played spectacularly through the match, epically so facing third-period pressure both at even-strength and on a Boston power play while his team trailed by a goal, allowing a marginal one (at best) to decide the match?


This was a terrific playoff game that shook down the thunder and woke up the echoes at the Coliseum. It could have been Islanders-Bruins 1980, so fierce was the competition in which nothing was given and all was earned. It was a game that demanded a cleaner ending, though our friends at the other end of the Mass Pike would surely protest that observation.

No, it wasn’t that the Bruins didn’t earn their victory. Of course they did. But you’d have liked to see the game end on an artful goal … maybe on a breakaway the way Game 2 ended on Casey Cizikas’ solo dash in Boston on Monday. But instead of concluding on a bang, it came to an end on a whimper when Marchand scooped a bad-angle shot from the vicinity of the left corner that somehow found a sliver of space to beat Varlamov at 3:36 for 2-1 in the game and 2-1 in the series.

Patrice Bergeron (l.) and Brad Marchand celebrate the game-winning goal against the Islanders in Game 3 on Thursday.

It seemed unfair somehow that the Islanders, who were skating downhill in the OT while the B’s iced the puck three times within the first 3:15, would lose this way. Again, though, that was likely not the prevailing opinion in the Boston room.

“It’s a seeing-eye puck that hits almost a one-inch hole,” Barry Trotz said. “It’s a shot that [Varlamov] will want back but he’ll let it go, no different than he’s done many, many times before. His temperament is fine.”

There is no way that Varlamov will be a scapegoat for this, not after his splendid work in the third while the Bruins pounded eight shots on him through the first 3:45 and 19 shots through the first 13:00. Except for missing butt-ends and slashing, you could have closed your eyes and imagined that it was Money Billy Smith in goal for the good guys.

The J-G Pageau line, with Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac on the flanks, smothered the Bergeron unit at even-strength. Mat Barzal, whose forced neutral-zone turnover triggered the rush the other way on which Craig Smith scored the 1-0 goal at 5:52 of the opening period, responded as if he took it personally.

No. 13 danced and battled and won one-on-ones and was around the puck throughout. And he canceled the goal against by tucking one in against Tuukka Rask to tie it at 14:32 of the third period. Just two minutes later, Anthony Beauvillier took a headman pass from Josh Bailey and darted in alone on Rask (with Connor Clifton bothering No. 18 from his left), only to be denied on a backhand. Beauvillier, whom you’d trust with the puck on his stick at any time, also was stopped on a first-period breakaway, this one a wrist shot to the blocker.

Rask is one of the superior postseason goaltenders of this time, a lifetime 57-44 with a 2.18 GAA and .927 save percentage. The Islanders tried all night to get into his kitchen but didn’t have much success. It is easier said than done, of course, but starting with Saturday’s Game 4, they will have to do a better job of getting to the blue paint and at least disturbing the thus-far unflappable Finn.

“Trust me, yes, we have to,” Trotz said. “It’s playoff hockey. We’re going to have to get to the interior a little more and they’re doing a good job against us on that. But yes, absolutely, we’re going to have to get a little greasier, a little harder on them.

“Both teams are trying to do it but it’s not as easy as it sometimes looks.”

Actually, it didn’t look easy at all in this one and it hasn’t looked easy at all through the first three games. Nothing has come easy. Nothing has come for free … well, except maybe for the game-winning goal in this Game 3.

How do you explain it? How do you explain stopping the Bergeron line only to have one of its components win the game?

It’s hockey, that’s how you explain it.

Glorious high-stakes hockey.

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