Bean: Why next two wins will be much harder for B's than first two originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Bruins being up 2-1 on the Islanders shouldn’t be a surprise. They were the favorite heading into the series and they’ve looked like the better team.
All hasn’t gone according to plan, however, and if there’s anything the first two wins of this series has taught us, it’s that the final two could be a lot more difficult.
Ilya Sorokin stinking up the joint in Game 1 was a blessing and a curse for the B’s. Boston would have won that game no matter who was in net, but Sorokin’s performance led to a goalie change. As a result, the B’s have had to deal with two (mostly) excellent games from Semyon Varlomov rather than getting more time against a rookie.
More importantly, the injury bug has bitten. Craig Smith could have been the difference in a Game 2 loss that went to overtime, but the B’s dodged a bullet given that Smith only missed one contest and scored a big goal in his first game back.
Now the Bruins have to worry about Brandon Carlo, who left Game 3 with what we have to assume is a head injury. Carlo’s concussion history is worrisome. So too is Boston’s defense without him, as the Bruins aren’t deep defensively when fully healthy. Kevan Miller is already out. Jeremy Lauzon has not been good; were there another decent option, he’d be sitting.
Jakub Zboril has been out with an injury, but he’s also a risky play. Because Miller didn’t travel to New York, Carlo missing Game 4 would mean Boston would only have two right-shot defensemen in their lineup (Charlie McAvoy, Connor Clifton), which isn’t the end of the world, but it’s suboptimal.
The good news is that the Bruins survived the game in which Carlo left, as playing with five defensemen can easily expedite a loss, especially if it’s a key guy like Carlo.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Friday that Carlo is day-to-day, which the Bruins should happily take. The idea of trying to fend off the Islanders with essentially half a defense would change the conversation around this series.
The Islanders have scored just four goals at 5-on-5 this series. Prior to being gifted a goal in the third period (more on that in a bit), Mathew Barzal had not scored a goal in the playoffs. Though the Islanders have dominated play for stretches, they’ve been kept in check offensively. Should the Bruins not have Carlo, the opportunity will be there for the Islanders to break through both at even strength and on the power play.
While Cassidy is working on his lineup, he should think about the fourth line. Chris Wagner was an accessory to the Islanders’ only goal in Game 3, failing to interrupt Mathew Barzal’s three jams of the puck against Tuukka Rask’s skate. Sean Kuraly has been Boston’s worst possession player this series and put the Islanders on the power play with a dumb penalty in the final three minutes of regulation.
Cassidy hasn’t hesitated to scratch his fourth-liners, who are good players having bad seasons. If somebody sits, options include putting Karson Kuhlman back in the lineup or having Trent Frederic play his first game in nearly a month.
So the Bruins are in control, but hardly in cruise control. The postseason is rarely set-it-and-forget-it, but the Bruins have greater challenges ahead of them in this series than a lot of us initially thought.