When the Islanders’ power play ticks, they’re a completely different force.
For the first time in quite some time, that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday afternoon in the Toronto bubble as a pair of power-play goals lifted the Islanders — and their 24th-ranked man-advantage unit — to a 4-2 Game-2 win over the Florida Panthers to take a 2-0 series lead.
One more win will see them advance to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Jordan Eberle scored a pair of goals to pace the Islanders, who had to overturn one-goal deficits twice throughout the afternoon to nab a second-straight win.
For Eberle, he kept his hot form in the playoffs going for the Islanders as he now has six goals in 10 playoff games dating back to last season.
“It was good to see us start to contribute a little bit and create some offense,” Eberle, whose first line was silent in Game 1, said. “We just have to keep it going.”
It looked as though it would be the same old story for the Islanders early on after they could not convert on a four-minute double-minor penalty on Mike Matheson — who knocked Johnny Boychuk out of Game 1.
An Anthony Beauvillier penalty cut New York’s man-advantage short to just 2:50 while helping Florida nab its opener.
Mike Hoffman’s wrister as Beauvillier exited the box deflected off Tom Kuhnhackl and beat Semyon Varlamov through the five-hole with 8:44 to go in the first period.
It was a deserved opener for the Panthers, who monopolized the early portions of play with 17 shot attempts compared to the Islanders’ six leading up to the Hoffman goal.
“The first period I wasn’t really happy,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think they got most of their push in the first period and then we sort of settled down after the first 10-12 minutes. We were a little bit too loose.”
Matheson would take another penalty in the final minutes of the first, generating some Islanders momentum and Grade-A scoring chances. But Anthony Beauvillier’s one-timer that should have found the back of a wide-open, yawning Panthers goal hit the post before another high-danger shot from Derick Brassard was headed out of play by the mask of Sergei Bobrovsky.
After a strong start to the second period, the Islanders finally got past Bobrovsky 6:12 into the frame when another strong forecheck from the lower lines saw Tom Kuhnhackl win the puck in front and drop off a pass between the legs to Matt Martin right in front of Bobrovsky. The Islanders’ veteran fourth-liner stuffed it home to tie things up.
The Panthers came right back following a Brock Nelson power play when Aleksander Barkov snapped a wrister through Varlamov just 16 seconds into the man-advantage and 1:42 after Martin’s equalizer.
But the Islanders were able to capitalize on their fourth power play of the day six minutes later when a Ryan Pulock slapper from the left circle on the man advantage fizzed through the wickets of Bobrovsky.
Just feet in front of Pulock’s position when he scored, the Islanders took the lead for good less than three minutes later. Eberle was the beneficiary of some tic-tac-toe movement when he was found in front of the left circle alone. He outwaited MacKenzie Weeger, who slid to block a potential shot, before slotting his writer home.
“You either got to get it off quick or be patient,” Eberle said. “I was lucky enough to bide my time, get around the d-man, and just throw it in.”
Eberle picked up his second and doubled the Islanders’ advantage in the third period when he redirected a one-timer from Anthony Beauvillier just in front of Bobrovsky for his second goal of the game.
It was also the Islanders’ second power-play goal of the game, which they hadn’t done since Jan. 21 in a 4-2 win over the Rangers.
“We talked about trying to win the special teams war and tonight we were able to do that,” Trotz said. “What you’re finding is that our power play is finding a little bit of confidence. They’re trusting in that they don’t have to be as fancy.”