The Islanders live to see another day.
After being outplayed most of the night in yesterday’s game five, Barry Trotz and Co. found a way to extend the series, winning 2-1 in double-overtime and setting up a pivotal game six Thursday.
Jordan Eberle, who had gained a new label for his very rough struggles this postseason, got the game-winner off a splendid feed from Anders Lee (we’ll get to him in a minute) as he was able to beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on just the 24th shot of the game for the Isles. It was quite possibly the biggest goal in Eberle’s career and without question the most important for the Islanders this postseason.
But what about the guy who set up Eberle on the winner? Lee. He had an outstanding game last night.
“They rose up to the challenge,” Barry Trotz said. ” You start with the captain, Anders Lee… he’s blocking shots, he was all in, he was exhausted, and he still found a way. He made a great play to Ebs on the winning goal.”
Lack of offensive production aside — Lee only had three shots on goal through four-plus periods — he did everything else a captain is supposed to do in a do-or-die situation. The captain led by example and was doing all the little things right.
Late in the first overtime, after d-man Scott Mayfield broke his stick. it was Lee who gave up his stick so Mayfield could keep defending as the Islanders were basically pinned in their own zone. On that same sequence, he had a huge block on a Zach Bogosian shot.
“He’s our leader for a reason,” Eberle said about his linemate after the win. “He’s a big body & a lot of times you see him battling down low & taking on 1,2,3 guys & winning battles. That’s the stuff you expect to see from him… he doesn’t get enough credit for the passion he plays with.”
Lee also was credited with four hits on the night and he was very much playing with an edge.
Let’s talk about the winner for a minute.
As much as it was a lucky break from Bolts d-man Kevin Shattenkirk, Lee’s pass to Eberle was a thing of beauty. Cross ice and right on the tape. And after the Isles offense could basically generate nothing offensively through both overtimes, Lee made sure that his team was going to capitalize on that golden opportunity.
🚨 JORDAN EBERLE DOUBLE OVERTIME WINNER
2-1 #ISLES pic.twitter.com/OYwJrKj14m
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 16, 2020
Ok, now onto the real hero of last night’s triumph and the reason there will be a game six Thursday.
What a freaking game for the 32-year-old as he literally stood on his head.
36 saves on 37 shots. 22 saves combined from the third period until the game was over. And he was a wall when his team had to kill off a four-minute penalty after Anthony Beavuillier took a high sticking penalty on Mikhail Sergachev near the end of regulation.
“I didn’t have a chance to play a lot of playoff games in my NHL career, but I’m just happy to be here today and play these playoffs,” Varlamov acknowledged. “It’s very exciting for me, it’s very exciting for this team to play in the Conference Final.”
👀 #Isles pic.twitter.com/JPktLUsMPq
— Eyes on Isles (@eyesonislesFS) September 16, 2020
Varlamov has been sharp in the entire playoffs. He’s been very good in this series after that game one debacle. But Varlamov’s performance last night was one for the ages as he saved his best performance when his club needed it the most. I won’t forget to to mention his celebration on Eberle’s winner either. Simply priceless. That’s just how much last night meant to him and his mates.
“He’s endeared himself to everybody, obviously with his play and his personality,” Trotz said of his goaltender.
The mometum is back on the Isles’ side. They can thank Varlamov for making that happen. Now it’s on to Thursday and another potential do-or-die scenario.
The Islanders aren’t going home just yet.
On to game six.