Jordan Eberle pots 2OT winner, Islanders survive to fight another day

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning
September 15, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; New York Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle (7) and left wing Anders Lee (27) celebrate the power play goal scored by defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period in game five of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

That will quiet down the Jordan Eberle detractors for a little bit.

The struggling New York Islanders’ winger scored the game-winning goal 12:30 in double overtime to lift his squad to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final to keep their season alive.

The win forces a Game 6 with the Islanders trailing the series 3-2.

Eberle’s winner came via a one-timer on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush with Anders Lee — the Islanders’ captain slating a perfect pass from dot-to-dot for the game-winning winger.

“That’s the biggest one [I’ve scored] in a long time for sure,” Eberle admitted after the game.

Both first-liners had gone three games without a point, which was magnified given New York’s two-game hole in the series entering Tuesday night.

“They rose up to the challenge. You start with the captain, Anders Lee… he’s blocking shots, he was all in, he was exhausted, and he still found a way,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He made a great play to Ebs on the winning goal.”

They largely stayed alive thanks to the heroics of goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who stood on his head in the franchise’s fifth-longest game in team history. He saved 29 of 30 shots, many of them high-danger and 12 of them coming during the overtime periods.

He also looked like the happiest man on the planet upon Eberle’s winner as he skated down and slid on his belly into the Islanders’ celebratory pile.

“I was just so excited for us. Our season was on the line today in this game,” Varlamov said. “When we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through in that moment. I was so happy for the guys and so happy for us that we have a chance to now continue to play.”

The Islanders meanwhile, had just eight combined shots in the two extra frames, which was a theme all night long for the victors with 24 in total.

They posted just five in the first period — but they certainly made it count, and on the much-maligned power play no less.

Ryan Pulock — the defenseman with a blistering slapshot who the Islanders have struggled to get free this series — finally got on the board during a man advantage with 4:19 remaining in the frame.

A quick pass from Nick Leddy who faked a rush toward Tampa Bay’s goal found Pulock with plenty of space to unleash his bomb of a shot, which fizzed under Andrei Vasilevskiy’s arm behind a Lee screen.

“That’s kind of the style of our team. We’re patient,” Eberle said. “We don’t want to give up a lot. They have a lot of firepower over there that can hurt you. You don’t want to give them an opportunity to do that. Patience.”

As they have all series, however, the Lightning struck back four minutes into the second. A bad change allowed Blake Coleman to get a high-danger wrister toward Varlamov’s net, which the Islander netminder kicked away. The rebound dribbled past two over-committed Islanders in Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson and right to Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, who sniped a short-side wrister past Varlamov.

They looked to go-ahead goal when Carter Verhaeghe snapped a wrister past Varlamov, but Cedric Paquette was five feet offside entering the Islanders’ zone to cancel the tally out and give the Islanders life heading into the third.

While they were playing for their lives, the Islanders’ offense didn’t show too much urgency in the final frame of regulation. They had to wait 8:35 just to get their first shot on goal.

They would muster just five in the third, though they did mount some positive, elongated possessions in the Lightning zone. However, the Grade-A scoring chances continued to elude them.

It was with 1:23 remaining while in the Lightning zone that Beauvillier was penalized, high-sticking Mikhail Sergachev in the mouth for a four-minute double-minor. The Islanders were able to get out of regulation alive and managed to kill the remaining 2:37 in overtime, leveling out the ice.

“We were pretty relieved,” Pulock said. “It’s a tough call, it is a penalty, those things happen, but we knew we were going to do the job for him.”

The first overtime period featured four shots apiece from the teams with Mathew Barzal picking up the best chance — reeling in a Matt Martin cross-ice pass alone in front of Vasilevskiy. But his wrister was turned away.

Nikita Kucherov nearly sent the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final just moments before Eberle’s winner when a rebound from a shot that hit Varlamov high settled near the netminder’s right post. Kucherov tried to deke around Scott Mayfield to get to the puck and managed to get his stick on it, but it hit the post of the yawning net. 

“Our guys didn’t waver. They kept grinding,” Trotz said. “You can get some energy from it. We’ve had some heartbreakers… but our guys didn’t give up and that’s a great sign moving forward.”

It was a fanned shot by the Lightning in their zone — a whiffed shot — that set up Eberle’s winner as Lee chipped the puck up the boards to himself to create the odd-man rush.

“Things happen quick out there,” Eberle said. “You have to react. You see the fanned shot, you see Lee poke it by. You’ve played this game for a long time and you know when odd-man rushes are going to come.”

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