As the game wound down, it felt like it was going to be one of those nights where regression stings like a bee. The Islanders had a strong final two periods and were on the doorstep all night, but struggled to finally tie the game.
Once they did, they gave us a bonus.
In an Early Hole... Really Early
The puck was dropped at 0:00 of the first period, of course, and the score was 1-0 Jets at only 0:13. Off the opening face-off, Winnipeg’s Nathan Beaulieu chipped the puck in deep up the left side and it was retrieved by Brandon Tanev in that corner. He curled around the back of the net and threw a shot at Robin Lehner’s pads that ricocheted out the other way, where Adam Lowry skated into it. So, not a great place to start. Luck has been hard to come by of late for the Isles.
Lowry deflected another puck for both his and his team’s second goal about six minutes later. The shot, which came from Jacob Trouba at the point, was a continuation of the Jets’ control of the first few minutes of the game. The game’s tides shifted a bit though, and the Islanders got on the board just after the halfway point of the period.
Trimming the Deficit
Jordan Eberle forced a turnover at the offensive blue line to keep the puck in the zone as most of both teams’ players left the zone; Mathew Barzal hadn’t yet, and Eberle found him as he turned around toward Connor Hellebuyck, beating him for his first goal since mid-February.
The first ended with the Islanders down 2-1 but trending in the right direction. They carried that advantage into a strong second period that unfortunately lacked the results.
Bad Luck Snaps... errr... Strikes Again
The Isles flew out of the gate in the second period, and it wouldn’t be until about 4:00 into the frame that the Jets got their first sustained offensive zone pressure. They were able to generate it, in part, due to Cal Clutterbuck‘s stick breaking, and to make matters worse, so did that of Casey Cizikas.
The Jets worked it around the 5-on-3-plus-2-roving-statues and mixed up the Islanders defenders until Tanev found an open lane. The Islanders were down two again.
An Actual Power Play Goal, but Special Teams Woes Continue Otherwise
Okay, it was a 5-on-3, but it’s still a power play goal! The Islanders were granted just over 1:30 of a two-man advantage. They looked initially like they were going to be guilty of over-passing again, but they worked it nicely to open up a shooting lane for a Ryan Pulock blast. It was helped along by the stick of Anders Lee for his team-leading 28th of the year.
The Islanders played well through the second at even strength, and had to be feeling pretty good about their chances going into the third period down one goal.
#NYIvsWPG Score-Venue 5v5 Second Period Metrics Via @NatStatTrick— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) March 29, 2019
Isles 56.76% Attempts
Isles 72.92% Scoring Chances
Isles 100% High Danger (4-0)
Much better period for the Isles. Gonna need another one of those coming up.
However, they were gifted two consecutive power plays, courtesy of Mathieu Perreault: one that brought the period down to :30-ish seconds, and another as he stepped out of the penalty box that carried over to the third. They didn’t produce much of anything during the power plays, and Winnipeg got its legs a little bit coming off both kills.
Josh Bailey slashed at Bryan Little early in the third and the penalty killers mostly stood around as the Jets set up Mark Schiefele two or three times in a row before it got moved out to the point. Trouba fired one off that Scheifele redirected and Winnipeg was buck up two.
Back Within One Quickly
The Islanders didn’t let the two goal lead stand long; they pressured right away and got within a goal again just over a minute after the Jets scored. Eberle batted in a rebound from another point shot by Pulock to keep the hope alive.
The Luck Finally Swings
The Islanders got a boost from their third goal and continued to pressure the Jets, generating chance after chance that was blocked either by Winnipeg defenders or Hellebuyck, and the frustration was setting in for we fans and, I’m sure, for the guys on the ice. To play so well and see so many breaks break the other way, it was certainly tense over here. Leo Komarov nearly took them out of it for good with a needless offensive zone penalty, but the kill was the strongest of the night for the Islanders, and they went back to pushing the Jets.
Time ticked to under 2 minutes and it felt like the Islanders were going to get jobbed out of a point and ruin everyone’s Friday, but they finally broke through and tied the game with a furious rush. The puck trickled through Hellebuyck off a shot from Anthony Beauvillier and Cizikas was there to pot it for his long-awaited 20th goal of the season. The sense of relief for the Islanders was extremely evident.
Just over a minute and a half remained, and the team could have been content with just getting the point and sending it to OT — hell, the way things feel they’ve been going of late and especially tonight, we probably would’ve been alright with it. But Barzal wasn’t satisfied with that. He blasted through two Winnipeg defensemen and carried behind the net when the shot wasn’t there. Eberle and Lee followed behind him and Barzal found Eberle with a no-look pass as he skated in. Eberle dangled around Hellebuyck and roofed it over him to begin the celebration and complete the comeback.
I felt it when Lee jumped on top of him in a full bear hug and they fell into the net together.
Thoughts and Elation
The Islanders played pretty well all night. Over 40 shots on goal and plenty of scoring chances; even Lehner, who let up four goals, played strong and prevented some sure-fire goals from putting the deficit completely out of reach.
Two Jets goals were tip-ins and a third was deflected off the skates. Their one straight-on shot type goal came after two Islanders players saw their twigs snap on them in the defensive zone. The Jets didn’t luck their way through the night — the process was pretty good for them, too. But they had the better bounces through the first 58 minutes.
After the Isles finally tied it, I wasn’t even thinking go for it. I was thanking the hockey gods for a point and begging that they’d hold the Jets off. When Barzal set up Eberle for the game-winner, my father and my brother and I woke up my mother, who was angry about the startling, and my dog, who ran like hell. Sorry ladies.
Great homecoming for Pulock, who had three assists and six shots on goal. Barzal looked a lot like he did last year in that the offense was free-flowing, and the points he had back that up. Eberle had a good night as well, with two goals, an assist, and four shots on goal. But man, he could’ve had a couple more, including when he had a wide open net minutes before the tying goal and shot it low enough for Hellebuyck to reach over and grab. And that’s not to knock him by any means; more so to highlight how unlucky they were getting.
I tell you what folks: this was a very fun game for my last recap of the 2018-19 regular season even if I had to re-frame the entire thing right at the end. Worth it. :) I’ll be back at it during the playoffs to be sure, and beyond!
The Islanders host the Sabres on Saturday night at the Coliseum, 7:00 p.m. EST. Thanks to tonight’s win, as well as the Blue Jackets and Canadiens finishing their game in regulation (a Columbus win), Saturday’s contest could be the clincher. The Islanders sit at 97 points; the maximum number of points the Habs could get is 98 now, so a win in any fashion clinches the Islanders a playoff spot. I’ve got goosebumps!