It was not how the New York Islanders drew it up, but they forced Game 6 with a double-overtime victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders battled all game and got the game-winner midway through the second overtime.
“Our guys didn’t waver, they just kept grinding and grinding and you can get some energy from it, no question,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “We didn’t give up and that’s a great sign going forward.”
Here are three takeaways from New York’s victory on Tuesday night as they prepare for Game 6 on Thursday.
Jordan Eberle has struggled since the Qualifying Round. He has had trouble hitting the score-sheet consistently and was shifted from the first line with Mat Barzal and Anders Lee to the third line with J.G. Pageau and Matt Martin. Eberle was more noticeable in Game 5 and scored the biggest Islanders goal of the last 30 years or so.
Eberle entered the zone on a two-on-one with Lee, and after a beautiful pass, deposited the puck into the back of the net to trim the Islanders’ series deficit to 3-2. It was his fifth goal of the postseason, but only his second in the last 16 games. He had two shots on goal and played 22:46.
Johnny Boychuk may not be the same player he was during his Stanley Cup-winning years with the Boston Bruins, but his presence was significant in Game 5. The veteran dressed as the seventh defender and impacted the game right away with two key blocked shots in the first period, including one on the power play. He also registered three hits.
Boychuk, who was out with an injury, had not played since Game 1 of the Qualifying Round. He only played 12:04 but was crucial on the backend, allowing the Islanders superstars to get some extra ice time. It’s worth questioning why New York didn’t use seven defensemen earlier on, but it’s hard to doubt what Trotz has done all season.
It was concerning to see the Islanders off to such a slow start while facing elimination, which has bee a common theme for them in the postseason and especially so in Game 5. The Lightning were better from the drop of the puck and dominated in the opening 10 minutes. It wasn’t until the Islanders, who had 1/21 record on the power play, opened the scoring on a blast from Ryan Pulock with the man advantage.
It’s easy to blame the lack of chemistry between the lines for the slow start, but every minute counts in a decisive game. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was brilliant with a couple of big stops on Tampa Bay’s early power play and then during the four-minute double-minor to Anthony Beauvillier at the end of regulation.
The Islanders still have a long way to go with another must-win situation in Game 6 on Thursday. It won’t be surprising if Trotz goes with the same lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Despite that he only did it once during in the regular season, New York benefited greatly from the extra ice time for Barzal and Nelson, who each played over 30 minutes in the victory.
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