They say a three-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey and the New York Islanders nearly fell victim to the cliched pitfall. They nearly blew such a cushion in Game 5 in Boston against the Bruins, but they did just enough to hold on to steal another game at TD Garden, 5-4, and take a 3-2 series lead in the second round.
New York’s power-play led the way, going 3-for-4 on the night while a fivesome of Islanders — Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier, and Noah Dobson — had two-point nights.
The bulk of their scoring came in a three-goal third period to shock the Bruins and run star goaltender Tuukka Rask out of the game, as he allowed four goals on 16 shots.
While he was relieved by Jeremy Swayman, Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov was by far the busier goaltender, stopping 40 of 44 shots.
He had to stand tall as the Islanders went into a defensive shell that almost broke as they failed to record a shot in the final 18:01 of the third period following Brock Nelson’s goal that put them up 5-2.
Boston would come up with two answers to make things close, but the Islanders’ defensive resolution reigned supreme to set up a potential series-clinching Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night.
The Bruins broke through early once again this series after David Pastrnak sniped a one-timer from the left circle through Varlamov just 1:25 into the game. It was the fifth time in six games this postseason that Varlamov allowed a goal within the first three minutes, forcing the Islanders to play catchup one more time.
Just over two minutes later, Brad Marchand nearly doubled Boston’s lead when a deflected shot from the point fell to him at Varlamov’s left post. But the Bruins’ star winger dragged his chance across the crease of an open net.
The Bruins continued to come in waves, but Varlamov stabilized as he normally has and kept the Islanders in it despite a strong push from the hosts.
“They came out hard,” Beauvillier said. “Their building, their fans gave them a nice boost. It’s the playoffs, they came out flying out of the gates. They had a good push and their top line is really good. We did a really good job sticking with it.”
As the Islanders hung on and worked their way into the game, they were gifted a power play when Sean Kuraly slashed Noah Dobson — a soft call given what the officials let go throughout the period with 1:43 to go.
Just 32 seconds later, Barzal drew the Islanders level when he snapped a wrister over the shoulder of Rask for his third goal in as many games.
“That was key,” Barzal said. “We probably didn’t deserve to have the game at 1-1… they probably could’ve had three or four in that first period. We just recouped, took a deep breath.”
“We needed good goaltending, we got that,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz added. “We knew they were going to come out early and they did. They scored the first goal and they got that. Then we got some timely goals. Our power-play got some timely goals, they made some mistakes and we capitalized.”
Into the second period, Kyle Palmieri put the Islanders ahead with a second power-play goal, finishing a lazy puck that was centered from Josh Bailey just 4:49 into the period.
Marchand did get his goal less than three minutes later after Palmieri’s tally as he wove through the Islanders’ defense, powered around Ryan Pulock, and circled around Varlamov to finish with ease to tie it back up.
It was then that the Islanders took over, scoring three unanswered between the second and third periods
A brilliant move by an altered Islanders second line that saw Jean-Gabriel Pageau, not Nelson, center Bailey and Beauvillier gave the visitors the lead once again with 5:30 left in the second.
Driving behind the net, Beauvillier centered a pass to Pageau, who snapped a quick feed to Bailey to finish in an open net. Just 2:08 later, Eberle snapped a wrister on the power-play from the left circle over Rask’s shoulder.
“I thought the power play came up big for us,” Bailey said. “They need to in the playoffs and tonight we had a couple good goals. They came hard at us early, Varly did a good job weathering the storm… we turned it around.”
The Islanders kept the pedal down to start the third on a new goalie, as Rask was relieved by Swayman. He was rudely introduced by Nelson, who capitalized off a Bruins turnover in their own zone by snapping a wrister from between the dots around Swayman’s glove just 1:59 into the frame.
It was the last shot the Islanders would take on the night as Boston stormed their way back.
Boston ended the run 1:49 later after Adam Pelech took a penalty as Pastrnak picked up his second, again from the left circle to get the Bruins back within two.
Their momentum was stymied after Patrice Bergeron took a delay-of-game penalty 7:41 into the period, but the Islanders could not generate a shot on the lone power play they missed on Monday night.
But they got within one with 5:17 left when David Krejci jammed home a loose puck that just trickled through Varlamov, ensuring a white-knuckle finish to regulation that the Islanders managed to see out after a timeout taken by Trotz.
“It was just kind of nice to take a deep breath and relieve a bit of pressure,” Barzal said of the timeout. “It felt when we were up three or two, we were just backing off and letting them get in the zone.”
“We were backing up and I don’t like that,” Trotz confirmed. “That’s not our style. You want to go forward. We said let’s get back to our game of pushing forward and I thought we stabilized that pretty well. I thought the last five minutes, our guys did an excellent job.”