The Islanders are still breathing.
Jordan Eberle scored off a feed from Anders Lee on a two-on-one break at 12:30 of the second overtime to give the Islanders a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in game five of the Eastern Conference Final in Edmonton. The Islanders cut Tampa Bay’s lead in the series to 3-2 and they force a game six on Thursday night (8pm NBCSN).
“Obviously to score that and give ourselves another chance in a couple of days is huge,” said Eberle who netted his second goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs. “It’s the biggest one in a long time for sure. This team has battled hard to get to where we are and we’re not finished.”
Eberle becomes the eighth player in Islanders history to score an overtime goal when the Islanders were facing elimination. The others were J.P. Parise and Jude Drouin in 1975, Billy Harris in 1977, John Tonelli in 1982, Ken Morrow in 1984, Pat LaFontaine in 1987 and David Volek in 1993.
The Islanders are trying to become the 30th team in NHL history to rally from three games to one down and win a playoff series. They’ve certainly faced some adversity in this series, but now they are just one win away from taking the Lightning to a seventh game.
This team has taken some punches during the playoffs and they’ve gotten up from the canvas a few times.
“Our guys didn’t waver,” said Head Coach Barry Trotz. “They just kept grinding and grinding. You can get some energy from it. That’s a great sign for going forward. It gives us some good energy hopefully for the next game.”
Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov was brilliant in the game making 36 saves to earn first star honors while Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots. Varlamov, who generally doesn’t show much emotion, did so after Eberle’s winner.
Varlamov skated from his crease and then slid into the celebratory pile of players.
“I was just so excited for us,” said Varlamov. “Our season was on the line today in this game. When we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through in that moment. I was so happy for the guys and so happy for us.”
Islanders/Lightning Eastern Conference Final Schedule:
Game 1: Monday September 7th…Lightning 8 Islanders 2 (Tampa Bay leads 1-0)
Game 2: Wednesday September 9th…Lightning 2 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads 2-0)
Game 3: Friday September 11th…Islanders 5 Lightning 3 (Tampa Bay leads 2-1)
Game 4: Sunday September 13th…Lightning 4 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads 3-1)
Game 5: Tuesday September 15th…Islanders 2 Lightning 1 F/2OT (Tampa Bay leads 3-2)
Game 6: Thursday September 17th…Lightning/Islanders…8pm NBCSN
Game 7: Saturday September 19th…Islanders/Lightning…8pm NBC (if necessary)
Ryan Pulock opened the scoring with a power play goal at 15:41 of the first period to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead. For Pulock, it was his second goal of the playoffs and he now has ten points in the playoffs making him the first Islanders defenseman to pick up at least ten points in a single post-season since Tomas Jonsson, Ken Morrow, and Denis Potvin in the 1983 playoffs.
It stayed 1-0 Islanders until Victor Hedman tied the game with his eighth goal of the playoffs four minutes into period two. From there, Varlamov and Vasilevskiy shut the door until Eberle’s heroics in the second overtime.
Things got a little dicey for the Islanders late in the third period when Anthony Beauvillier was called for a four-minute high sticking penalty at 18:37 that would carry over into the first overtime. After the penalty call, Beauvillier, visibly upset, skated to the penalty box and had his head down in disappointment.
But his teammates bailed him out and killed off the penalty.
“It’s a tough call,” said Pulock. “It is a penalty, but those things happen and we knew we were going to do the job for him.”
The Islanders went with eleven forwards and seven defenseman and that allowed the opportunity for Johnny Boychuck to return to the lineup for the first time since suffering an injury in game one of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on August 1st. Boychuck was pretty active with six blocks and five hits in the game.
Boychuck becomes the latest “reserve” player to be inserted into the lineup and contribute.
“You just gotta stay ready and focused when called upon,” said Boychuck. “I think we’ve been doing a good job by getting in and being ready for that and we have to continue to do so.”
With the win, the Islanders improve to 2-0 in this year’s playoffs when facing elimination. They’ll get another chance to stay alive on Thursday in game six.
The Dallas Stars will have to wait at least a couple of more days to find out who they’re going to play in the Stanley Cup Final.