Heading into Wednesday night, the New York Islanders had a lot of questions, but none of them loomed as large as the ones surrounding Mathew Barzal. The Islanders star was coming off an ejection in Game 5 for a poor decision cross-checking Jan Rutta’s in the face.
For Barzal, the Islanders star and often the driving force of their offense, this game was so much more than just an elimination game. It was an opportunity to bounce back, prove that he has his emotions in check, and show that he is a player who can step up in the game’s biggest moments.
Thankfully for the Isles, Barzal did just that. Despite going down 2-0, Barzal and co. kept flying around the ice and throwing pucks towards Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevski. The team had allowed 12 unanswered goals which dated back to the third period of Game 4, but instead of being down or discouraged, Barzal willed his team back into the game.
“I thought that was Mat’s best game of the series,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said after the game in an interview with MSG netwroks. “He used his skill set and used all 200 feet of ice. He was a factor.”
In Game 6, Barzal showed his playmaking ability, setting up Jordan Eberle for his backhand goal and then he followed it up with a phenomenal pass to who else but Scott Mayfield, who ripped one past Vasilevski.
Scott Mayfield! pic.twitter.com/M3Z5Dv3dLI— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) June 24, 2021
Through the entire game, Barzal appeared to be on a mission, seeming tactically untouchable with the puck on his stick, especially during the two 4-on-4 stints. On the first one he drew a penalty down in the Lightning zone and on the second one he was able to hold the puck and create chances all by himself for nearly the entire first half of the two minute 4-on-4 to start the third period.
This video describes Mat Barzal. Absolute waterbug out there. Punch turning his way to create distance without losing much speed & great patience and confidence on the puck. pic.twitter.com/o8lP1BB8wr— Pavel Barber (@HeyBarber) June 24, 2021
This game was huge for the Isles being that they were able to defend the Coliseum and force a game 7, but for Barzal it really showed what kind of player he can be. In the opening round of the playoffs, the narrative was that he needs to do more and get it done. Since then he has stepped up and produced, but his biggest game yet came in the biggest spot.
“You’re down 2-0 in Game 6,” Barzal said. “It doesn’t take much to mentally stay in it and be excited. Game 6 at home, in a tough spot, but we’re a resilient group and knew there was a lot of time left… We stuck with it.”
There are never any guarantees in hockey, especially in the playoffs, but the Islanders have to love the way their star stepped up when the adversity was at its highest. The games continue to grow bigger and we will see if Barzal and the Islanders can continue to rise to the challenges.
Follow Ben on Twitter @BenMandell55