Islanders forward Jordan Eberle knew exactly what to do upon seeing teammate and captain Anders Lee pounce on the loose puck once Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk whiffed on his shot from the right point.
Eberle raced up the middle, drove to the net and converted Lee’s pass to cap a two-on-one break and keep the Islanders’ playoff hopes alive. The goal, scored 12:30 into the second overtime, sealed a 2-1 win over the Lightning in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference final series Tuesday night.
“Things happen quick out there. You’ve got to react. You see the fanned shot. You see Leesy poke it by,” said Eberle, who scored his second winner of the post-season. “You’ve played this game a long time, you know when you have odd-man rushes and an opportunity is about to come. Leesy made a heck of a play to get the puck over to me.”
The sixth-seeded Islanders cut the second-seeded Lightning series lead to 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Thursday night. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final and face West champion Dallas, which eliminated Vegas in five games on Monday night.
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Islanders defenceman Ryan Pulock also scored and Semyon Varlamov capped a 36-save outing by skating the length of the ice and making a head-first dive into the pile of players mobbing Eberle.
“I don’t know. I just jumped because I was so excited for us,” Varlamov said of his celebration. “When we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through in that moment. I was just happy for the guys, so happy for us. We have a chance to continue to play.”
Relief had something to do with it, too, in a game the Islanders were limited to 24 shots, and no more than six in a period. And they weathered killing off a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking called against Anthony Beauvillier with 1:23 left in regulation.
The goal came off the Lightning winning a faceoff to the left of the Islanders net. The puck was drawn back to Shattenkirk, who fanned on the shot. It dribbled to Lee, who banked the puck off the sideboards to get around Shattenkirk.
“It took the stars aligning on a fanned shot for them to get the break they got,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We had opportunities to put the game away.”
Victor Hedman scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots.
The Lightning were minus co-leading playoff scorer Brayden Point, who had a goal and assist in a 4-1 win in Game 4 after missing a 5-3 loss in Game 3 with an undisclosed injury. Tampa Bay’s other co-leader, Nikita Kucherov, was shaken up eight minutes into the second period Tuesday, but returned and had several scoring chances in the third period and overtime.
Cooper called it “hard to tell right now” as to whether Point will be able to play Thursday.
One thing Hedman was sure of, is knowing the Lightning will bounce back.
“It came down to one play. It’s tough for us obviously, but this is hockey,” Hedman said. “It’s how you respond to this that’s going to define you as a team. I’m not worried about how our group’s going to respond to this.”
The Islanders opened the scoring 15:41 in on Pulock’s power-play goal, just their second in 15 opportunities this series.
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The Lightning responded with Hedman tying the game four minutes into the second period.
Tampa Bay’s Carter Verhaeghe had a goal overturned 10:01 into the second period, when the Islanders challenged the play for being offside. Replays showed Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette clearly entered New York’s zone well ahead of the puck.
The Lightning dropped to 4-1 in overtime games this post-season, including a 5-4 5OT win over Columbus in Game 1 of their first-round series.
The Islanders continue to persevere in being the only team left that played a best-of-five preliminary round series, and showed signs of fatigue in opening the series against Tampa Bay with an 8-2 loss.
New York’s offence has fizzled in managing just 11 goals against Tampa Bay, including a 5-3 win in Game 3. The Islanders had combined for 28 goals in their previous eight games.
Coach Barry Trotz shook up his lines Tuesday, shifting Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders’ top line alongside Lee and Barzal. Clutterbuck took the spot of Eberle, who opened the game alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Matt Martin.
“Our guys didn’t waver — they just kept grinding,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We didn’t give up and that’s a great sign for moving forward.”