When they needed it the most, the captain answered the bell.
Anders Lee knocked home the game-winning power-play goal with 2:44 left in regulation to lift the New York Islanders to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, snapping a five-game losing streak.
Sitting at the bottom of the East Division through nine games, saying the Islanders needed that win might have been an understatement.
“Probably like a starving person needing food,” Trotz said. “That’s probably how bad we needed it.”
Lee’s fourth goal of the season capped off a comeback that saw the Islanders go down 3-2 early in the third period, salvaging a night that was paced by two goals from Jordan Eberle.
Normally the first-line right-winger, injuries and lineup shuffled coaxed by scoring struggles moved Eberle to the second unit where he, Michael Dal Colle, and Brock Nelson put in a strong showing.
Eberle nabbed both of his tallies in the first period, both assisted by Dal Colle, to get the Islanders off on the right foot in a display that Trotz said “gave us some pop.”
After an understandable rusty start from both sides having come off a nearly-one-week hiatus, Dal Colle hit Eberle from the right boards in tons of space in front of Tristan Jarry, allowing him to drive to the net and roof a backhander 10:22 into the period.
“He played really well,” Eberle said of Dal Colle. “He’s a big body, he wins a lot of puck battles and makes a lot of little plays. Look at that first goal, that’s a skill play… he looked great tonight.”
After Penguins defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph netted his first-career NHL goal with a snipe over Semyon Varlamov three minutes later, Eberle gave the Islanders the lead with 4:15 remaining, again benefitting from the play of his linemates.
Under pressure, Dal Colle managed to work the puck to Brock Nelson between the circles, who was able to snap a shot toward Jarry while falling. The initial save fell right to Eberle at the doorstep, who poked the puck home.
Lackadaisical play that allowed the Penguins to get their first goal of the night reared its ugly head yet again late in the second period. A combined turnover from Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield allowed Evgeni Malkin to walk in alone on Varlamov and tuck a wrister in the top corner of the net with 15.2 seconds left in the second period to tie it at two apiece heading into the final frame.
Often times, the Islanders’ fourth line has existed under the mantra of “giveth and taketh away.” In the third period, it was in reverse order.
They were outworked in their own zone by the Penguins, allowing Jake Guentzel to fire in a wrister 3:19 in to put Pittsburgh on top. However, they got it back five minutes later when Cal Clutterbuck stuffed home a centering pass from behind the net from Casey Cizikas.
“It’s huge for us,” Lee said of the fourth line’s play. “When they play the way that they have, we’ve seen it all before, they can change the course of a game pretty quickly.”
The Penguins opened the door for the Islanders to nab a late winner when Teddy Blueger was called for a delay-of-game penalty after lofting the puck into the stands in the Pittsburgh zone. And they took full advantage.
A slapper from the point from Ryan Pulock squeaked out of Jarry’s grasp right to Lee, who poked home the winner and got the Islanders back on track.
It also provided a happy recap for Varlamov, who was appearing in his 500th career game on Saturday night.
“I’m excited of course for the win but also really happy about playing 500 games,” Varlamov said. “I was very happy all day today thinking about the game and looking forward to playing it… It’s a pretty big achievement for me and my family.
“I want to say thank you to all the coaches and all the staff and trainers who have been apart of those 500 games.”