The New York Islanders had no business even being in the conversation of a victory on Monday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Division first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They were thoroughly dominated away from home at PPG Paints Arena; outshot 20-4 in the second period, 40-15 midway through the third, and overall, 50-28.
But good teams find ways to win, even if they spent a majority of the night on the back foot — and that’s exactly what the Islanders did.
Rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin’s heroics kept the Islanders in it long enough for Jordan Eberle to tie it in the third period before Josh Bailey’s double-overtime winner off a heinous turnover from Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry lifted the Islanders to a 3-2 victory.
“I was proud of the group for hanging in there,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “When things aren’t going well or they aren’t going your way or you’re feeling a little overwhelmed — doesn’t matter in this game or in life — your attitude can change.
“What I liked about our group is we pulled together. It wasn’t easy… instead of trying to shift the blame, we dug in. To me, that’s what good teams do.”
With a 3-2 series lead, the Islanders have an opportunity to eliminate the Penguins on Wednesday night at the raucous confines of Nassau Coliseum and move on to a date with the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Division final. This could potentially be the first time since 1993 that the Islanders closed out a playoff series at the Coliseum.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said after the unlikely Game 5 win. “There’s one thing I know about this group of guys and it’s we left it all out there. Just to get rewarded, it might not have been our prettiest game… Now we turn the page.”
It’s at this renovated old barn that the Islanders hold one of the strongest examples of home-ice advantage in the NHL as the relationship between the team and its fan base is on full display at deafening levels — as seen most recently on Saturday afternoon when the Islanders took care of the Penguins 4-1 in Game 4 to tie up the series.
The crowd’s impact isn’t lost on the team as Trotz sent out the call to the Islanders faithful after Game 5.
“We’re going to need our fans, we’re going to need our building, we’re going to need everyone going from the get-go,” he said.
That being said, the Islanders’ product on the ice has to improve to close out a desperate Penguins team trying to keep its season alive.
“Our game has to have more substance than it did. We needed everyone to get on board and contribute,” Trotz said. “Some guys were unbelievable… other guys I knew had another level. We can’t win this without everybody and everyone got on board.
“Nothing is easy in this league. It’s hard. This is a hard division and this is a very good hockey team. It’s going to take every ounce we have to win this.”