Barry Trotz said he expected the New York Islanders’ best effort in Game 5 and he was not wrong.
The Islanders, facing elimination for just the second time this bubble season, did not play a dominant game (official shots: 37-24 for Tampa) but they played a Trotzian smart and percentages-based game. That, another strong night from Semyon Varlamov, and some disciplined penalty killing — including a four-minute double-minor that traversed the end of regulation and overtime — enabled the Islanders to win this do-or-die game in double overtime.
For the record: The winner came from Jordan Eberle after captain Anders Lee blocked a shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, then led the rush and fed Eberle at the perfect time on a 2-on-1.
The Tampa Bay Lighning’s trip to the Stanley Cup final has been delayed and, if the hockey gods deem fit, may not happen at all. No matter what, we’ll know the Isles did not go gently (if at all). We’ll learn more from Game 6 on Thursday night.
With Casey Cizikas missing for the third consecutive game (and out of the bubble with his injury) and the Islanders facing do-or-die, Barry Trotz went with an unconventional lineup approach, for him: Just 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with Johnny Boychuk making his first appearance since early August against the Panthers.
They started with J-G Pageau in between Jordan Eberle and Matt Martin, kept the “B”s line intact, worked Cal Clutterbuck with Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee, then modified as needed to mix 11 forwards in.
The Lightning were without talisman Brayden Point again, as he sat out to tend to what seems to be a nagging injury. Anthony Cirelli took his place.
First Period: Conservative Start, but First Blood
The Islanders kept it pretty low-event and careful, though you could argue the defensemen seized a few extra opportunities to jump into the play.
Boychuk’s presence was immediately felt, or more specifically he immediately felt the presence of playoff hockey, as he blocked one shot, took another block to the mid-section, then on a later shift took one that knocked his skate blade off his boot. Though he had the lowest ice time, the blueline minutes were spread pretty evenly early on.
The Islanders really didn’t generate much this period, as both teams played conservatively, and they dodged some bullets on the Lightning power play where Boychuk took some of the shrapnel. But the Isles cashed in on a power play of their own with a little four minutes to go.
They finally set up Ryan Pulock with an open and uncontested look, and his full windup blast went through an Anders Lee screen and gave Andrei Vasilevskiy the old “no chance on that one, Howie.”
Second Period: Equalized
So that was how things sat at the end of the first intermission, the Islanders holding an elusive 1-0 lead that lasted more than a few seconds.
The second period was a chance for the Lightning to reload, however, and it was their all-world force Victor Hedman who did the damage, igniting a counterattack during an Islanders line change. Once inside the Isles zone, the play was setup by a good shot Blake Coleman with a helpful crash of the net to draw coverage. But Hedman jumped up for the rebound into the slot and smoothly deposited a half slapper just inside the post. Semyon Varlamov had come out far to cut off the angle, but Hedman still found the opening.
Mathew Barzal had perhaps the Isles’ best chance to regain the lead when Lee sent a backdoor pass, but it was lofted and Barzal’s redirect couldn’t change the angle enough to get it on goal.
Tied at 1-1 halfway through the period, the Lightning thought they’d taken the lead on a sweet over-the-shoulder snipe by former Islanders property Carter Verhaeghe. But the play, a broken icing waived off, was so obviously offside that it’s shocking it even got that far. I immediately wondered if Scott Mayfield knew — or at least sensed —something was off when he lost the battle for the puck in the corner with Cedric Paquette. But the Islanders defenseman didn’t appear to protest to officials after the puck went in.
Regardless, easy, quick review to overturn the on-ice call. The score remained 1-1.
Zach Bogosian also had a golden chance to put the Lightning after a quick and intricate passing play, but Varlamov got over quickly enough to limit Bogosian’s options and force a shot to the outside of the post. Another decent Isles chance came with Anders Lee on a two-on-one with Pageau, but Pageau’s pass was deflected by Zach Bogosian to prevent a shot.
Later, on a delayed penalty in the offensive zone, the Islanders patiently maintained possession for about two minutes — 1:20 with Varlamov pulled for an extra attacker — but could only say they kept the Lightning out for a tiring shift. No major chances generated with the extra man and nothing on the ensuing power play.
Shots were a very restrained and heavily blocked 15-11 for Tampa Bay after two periods. The Islanders were heading into the third tied, just needing to win one period to keep their season alive.
Third Period: Last Gasp, with Complications
Blake Coleman took a foolish interference penalty, knocking Ryan Pulock to the ice at the blueline on a rush where the Lightning had numbers back. But Pulock’s first-period goal aside, the Isles power play has been a rocky place, where scoring chances could find no purchase.
So it went with this power play, too. Not a single successful zone setup nor extended moment of possession.
After that, it took the Islanders nearly halfway through the period to register their first official shot on goal. Once it came, though, the Isles steadily started to put more of the pressure on. The Lightning were a little beaten up and playing with house money, and Vasilevskiy was keeping it a next-goal-might-be-all game. The Islanders, of course, had every reason to empty the tank, shortened their bench a bit and were generating sustained pressure but only deflections, which Vasilevskiy calmly kept out.
With 1:23 left in regulation of a tied game, Beauvillier’s tried to lift a stick and instead took a chunk of Mikhail Sergachev’s mouth. A four-minute double-minor was awarded.
The Islanders were able to kill that stretch of the power play to force overtime, but they would open the sudden-death extra period with 2:37 more to kill.
Overtime, Part 1: Survive
The Islanders picked up where they left off in OT, with an impressive, disciplined and courageous effort that was probably their best penalty kill of the series, even if you discount the obvious stakes. Big efforts from Cal Clutterbuck and Pageau in particular.
They followed that up with some more sustained but frustratingly futile offensive zone pressure, with Josh Bailey and Nelson cycling and using the points to keep the Lightning running in composed circles. At the end of the lengthy scramble, Leo Komarov had a hilarious try on what would’ve been an OT winner of legend: Between-the-legs backhand scoop from the top of the slot that actually did force a good save.
About six minutes in, Matt Martin — Matt Martin! — having the playoff of his career, actually set up Barzal on the rush for a chance in all alone on Vasileveskiy. But the Lightning 88 was up to that task too, getting a glove on Barzal’s mid-height shot.
The hairiest moments of this first OT came after Scott Mayfield’s stick broke on a shot block. The lefty captain Lee handed the righty Mayfield his stick, then played stickless blocker at the top of the zone as the Lightning handled the puck carefully.
The Isles had a few half chances themselves, including Devon Toews from the slot that went just high. But it was not meant to be.
They also lost Cal Clutterbuck late, again, to another collision, though he was back for the second extra period.
Overtime, Part 2: The Captain to the Sniper, Baby
I’m honestly too sleep-deprived and delirious to describe the second overtime to you. You know the ending though, so just enjoy these fine reaction clips:
Again, Game 6 is Thursday night. I’m a little concerned that whoever survives this series will be so battered as to be a sitting duck in the finals against Dallas. But I would love the privilege of worrying about that.