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Islanders 5, Hurricanes 4 (OT): Barzal, Varlamov’s big nights cover passive effort

A few standout showings take a bit of the sting off a maddeningly zombie performance.

New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes
“Here’s another lead we can blow!”
Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images

Mat Barzal had four points and Semyon Varlamov stopped 39 shots as the New York Islanders somehow won an overtime game they tried to blow again and again, as is their pattern this season.

Except this time, they didn’t really earn the leads they blew, they stumbled into them while walking through this game like zombies. Yet somehow, Barzal finished the 5-4 win after a pretty rush and give-and-go with Noah Dobson to get one arm of this seasonlong monkey off their back.

The name of the Isles’ game for the night was passivity. No urgency. Each goal conceded came from the Isles just kind of puck-watching. The lopsided shot disparity — always the case against Carolina but particularly extreme tonight — came from a lack of urgency on the forecheck, on “rushes” (if you can call them that) and zone entries, and in d-zone coverage.

Barzal, Bo Horvat and Dobson were generally exceptions, and Pierre Engvall had a mix of play-driving and passive coverage, but overall it was true throughout the lineup.

Thankfully, Semyon Varlamov was on his game and Pyotr Kochetkov was not.

[NHL Gamecenter | Game Summary | Event Summary | Natural Stat Trick]

First Period

Carolina opened scoring in the first on a nothing play when the puck dropped into the slot between Islanders observers. Jalen Chatfield jumped on the loose puck to get a shot off, it bounced over Varlamov and eventually in.

With two minutes left in the first and things looking dark despite it being just 1-0, Barzal and Horvat tied the game with a nice chemistry combo, Barzal holding the puck and waiting on the left wing while Horvat darted through the slot to ramp the pass upstairs and in.

So they reached the first intermission tied 1-1, trailing in shots 12-7.

Second Period

The second period was worse, far worse, but hockey being hockey, the Isles somehow emerged from it with a dreaded 3-2 lead.

Right after the U.S. national broadcast showed Lane Lambert saying he wanted to see the Isles winning more battles, the Isles passively watched the opening shift, and Jordan Martinook caught his own dump-in and fed Jordan Staal, who scored for the first time in a quarter to make it 2-1.

The Isles were outshot 15-3 in the period, but somehow they scored on two of them. One was a great Simon Holmstrom interception, rush and backhander upstairs, yet another shorthander for the forward having an interesting breakout year.

That tied it at 15:59, and you thought maybe they’d reach the intermission with a tie, if they don’t blow it.

Yet they scored again! Two minutes later, Engvall stuck with the puck to come out from the right wing boards and get himself a prime look from the slot. It was not a prime shot, but Kochetkov left the wickets open.

Third Period

How would the Islanders blow the third-period lead this time? Both early, and late, because they hate us.

They conceded passively on the first shift again, being painfully slow to cover men and to coverage. Engvall and Samuel Bolduc were each slow as they watched play down low, and Jack Drury pounced on open space in the slot to convert a great pass.

Once again, the Isles got a break. First, Staal took a puck-over-the-glass penalty when he jumped to swat a puck with his hand from his own zone, and it went out. Kyle Palmieri scored on the power play that followed, first deflecting the puck down and then shoveling in his own rebound.

Rod Brind’Amour, who had no cause to be so upset about the penalty call, then challenged this goal for some unknown and invisible missed stoppage for some reason. Nothing found, and the Islanders went back on the power play.

Nothing happened on that next power play, but the Hurricanes gave the Isles another gift when they had too many men on a careless change, but the Canes quickly had two rushes up ice shorthanded, then Brock Nelson took an inadvertent penalty to erase the power play just 39 seconds into it.

At 4-on-4, the Canes quickly generated a couple of dangerous looks as the Isles watched passively.

Late in the third but before the Canes had a sixth attacker, Varlamov made an insanely athletic save on a Sebastian (the Lesser) Aho wraparound attempt. Even I, cynical I, dared to think that might be an omen that things would be different this time.

No. With one more dump with 20 seconds left, Ryan Pulock for some reason decided to try to hold the puck along the corner boards with his skate rather than try a clear and possible icing. With three or even five seconds left, I get why you think that might be the play, but with so much time left it was inexcusable. And of course the puck poked free quickly.

The Canes worked the puck around frantically and tied it on a garbage rebound by Aho with a couple seconds left.

Overtime

The extra period was scary as hell as we awaited the inevitable. But somehow, for once, it went the other way. Nice lead of the rush by Barzal up the left wing while Horvat drove the net. Barzal faked the pass to Horvat and instead fed the trailing Dobson, who sent it right back to Barzal for the game-winning one-timer.

Up Next

Saturday they’re in Florida for a 6:00 start. What leads shall be blown then?