The Islanders have life, barely.
Brock Nelson scored the game-winning goal from Anthony Beauvillier — who also scored a goal off a Nelson assist Friday night — with just 3:25 left in regulation to lift the Islanders to a 5-3 victory and get them on the board in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They trail the series 2-1.
“It’s nice to get a bounceback win. A lot of guys were big for us,” Nelson said. “It’s nice to get that win.”
The late dramatics salvaged a blown 3-1 lead that was held going into the third period as the Islanders continued to struggle to repel the Lightning’s dominant offense.
“All you have to do is look at the situation and the amount of time we put into this entire process,” forward Cal Clutterbuck said after the game. “I just think the way the guys are, the way we are, I think we’ve come too far. I don’t think packing it in is really part of this team. There’s been a number of times we’ve been in tough situations and we haven’t.”
Much of it had to do with the heroics of Semyon Varlamov — the Islanders’ goaltender having one of his best games of the playoffs with 34 saves on 37 Tampa Bay shots — many of them high-danger.
“I thought he made very timely, big saves for us,” Trotz said. “That’s what you need in the playoffs and he did that tonight.”
“He’s been there for us all along,” Clutterbuck added. “Obviously, he came up huge for us a couple times, we broke down a couple times, something we’ll have to tighten up. But he was there when we needed him.”
As they did in Game 2, the Islanders struck first on Friday night when Clutterbuck slotted a wrister over the shoulder of Andrei Vasilveskiy, who was pleading with the officials for a whistle because one of his leg pads came loose.
He would get no reprieve as a rare flurry of Islanders pressure paid off 12:58 into the period.
Their lead wouldn’t last, though. After getting hemmed in their zone and whiffing on multiple clearance opportunities, a tired and unorganized Islanders were beaten by Mikhail Sergachev’s lethal backhander that beat Varlamov over his glove.
The goal could hardly be pinned on the Islanders’ netminder, who was stellar under constant waves of pressure from the Lightning throughout the first period.
Unlike the first two games of the series, though, the Islanders attempted to bail out their goaltender with some newfound offensive affluence — posting a pair of goals in the second half of the frame just two minutes apart.
Getting back to a strong forechecking game off the heels of a failed power play, the Islanders picked up sustained time in the Lightning’s zone. Off a drop pass from J.G. Pageau, Adam Pelech snapped a wrister over Vasilevskiy’s glove 11:50 into the period to take the lead.
Two minutes later, Nelson’s blazing foray into the Tampa Bay zone saw the forward wheel around Vasilevskiy’s net and send a centering pass to Beauvillier, who slotted the one-timer under the arm of the goalie.
It was an important goal for the Islanders as they lacked production from their top lines over the first to games of the conference final.
“If we’re going to have any success in this series, I know that we’re going to need contributions from all the lines,” he said. “Really, the first number of goals that we scored in this series, it basically came from the [lower lines]. We haven’t been able to get the other two lines on the scoreboard. Tonight we did and we were able to get a victory.”
Their lead certainly didn’t come easily, especially because the Islanders’ defense was constantly being bent against the Lightning’s overwhelming offensive attack. But Varlamov continued to stand on his head through the opening 40 minutes turning away 25 of 26 shots during that span.
Jordan Eberle provided the Lightning with an initial lifeline by committing a holding penalty in the offensive zone just 1:53 into the period. Thirty-one seconds later, Ondrej Palat brought Tampa Bay to within one when he deflected Nikita Kucherov’s wristed pass toward Varlamov’s goal.
They tied things up with 7:56 left in regulation when Tyler Johnson deflected a shot from the point by Erik Chernak through Varlamov. There was a question whether or not Johnson’s stick was high but the goal stood after review.
“I don’t think it was too much frustration or anything like that,” Nelson said. “It’s disappointing when you have a lead going into the third… and you give it up. But we stuck with it, stayed the course, and got back on it.”
Nelson’s game-winner came on the heels of a determined play by Beauvillier, who led an odd-man rush, but his centering pass was blocked near center ice. The rebound came back to him, where he wheeled around a no-look backhand pass to the game-winner before sniping a wrister over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder.
As the Lightning pressured for an equalizer, the Islanders put it away with an empty-netter in the final minute through JG Pageau.