The Islanders had this one won, then they lost their grasp on it during the frenetic third period and then they won it again.
It was 4-3 Islanders to even this best-of-seven at a game apiece on Casey Cizikas’ goal at 14:48 of overtime Monday night in Boston to cap an intense, nasty game of playoff theatre in which both teams’ big guys took turns being heroes.
For 50 minutes, the Islanders had been brilliant in building a 3-1 lead while displaying their forecheck and neutral-zone containment game. They had handled the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak line beautifully, forcing them to defend for shifts at a time.
Mat Barzal was on his toes. Semyon Varlamov was outstanding in his first start since Game 3 of the Pittsburgh series. The club got power-play goals from Josh Bailey and Jean-Gabriel Pageau while Kyle Palmieri scored at even-strength.
The game was theirs for the taking.
Until the Bruins wrested it back, getting a goal from Marchand on a left-wing drive at 10:34 before Bergeron tied it with a rocket of his own from the top at 15:06 on a power play created when the Islanders were called for too many men.
Too many men!
So into OT … where the Islanders won it again and will have the chance to get the jump in the series at the Coliseum on Thursday for Game 3.
Barry Trotz laid down the challenge to Barzal both on Sunday and Monday morning, saying both days that it was not about who was on the young center’s line, but what No. 13 did with his ice time.
“I’m not going to point to anybody in particular but you look at different series as we’ve gone along and the top players get really [tough] matchups and have to fight for their inches to have any success in the playoffs,” the coach said hours before Game 2. “In the regular season there’s more room, there just is, so they’re able to create and Mat has been able to do that. He’s done it in the past playoffs, he’s been able to create and put up pretty good numbers. This year it’s a little different, he’s having a little more of a struggle.
“Those players have to fight for those inches and if you’re not willing to fight for those inches, you don’t get those inches and you don’t get those opportunities. He’s got to dig in. This is not about who he’s playing with, it’s about Mathew just digging in a little bit and not getting frustrated. Which I know he is not.”
“The next step is, ‘It’s not going my way right now, how do I find the way?’ ” Trotz said. “It’s just fighting for the inches and being firm in your battles because to get offense now you’ve got to win battles and you’ve got to execute after you win them because those windows close up on you real quick. It’s just getting to that point where he’s winning all those battles and executing off that, from that standpoint.
“I don’t have a lot of issue with his game. Would I like him to produce a little bit more? Absolutely. And he will … he will. He’s a proud player, he’s a good player, and I have a lot of trust in him that he’s going to be able to do that.”
Barzal did take those next steps right out of the gate on Monday, driving the line with Leo Komarov on his left and Jordan Eberle on his right in creating opportunities on every one of that trio’s first-period shifts. Indeed, of the Islanders’ 13 first-period attempts, Barzal was on the ice for 10 of them, and for four of the club’s six shots, with Eberle’s low spinner from the slot with 7:50 remaining the Islanders’ best chance of the opening 20 minutes.
The Bruins had taken a 1-0 lead at 2:38 when Charlie Coyle motored in from the neutral zone off a Matt Martin turnover and then powered by Nick Leddy before tucking the puck past Varlamov, in nets for the first time since dropping Games 2 and 3 of the Pittsburgh series.
The goal marked the third time in three playoff starts that Varlamov had allowed one within the first 3:22 and the fourth time in eight tournament matches the Islanders had been dinged within the opening 8:20.