Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Jordan Eberle's timing couldn't be better for Islanders

Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle celebrates after scoring

Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle celebrates after scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second overtime in Game 5 of the NHL Eastern Conference final on Tuesday in Edmonton, Alberta. Credit: AP/JASON FRANSON

Jordan Eberle! Of course, it was Jordan Eberle. It had to be Jordan Eberle.

Who else would you expect to save the Islanders’ season than the guy who had spent the past month frustrating fans – and himself – with countless missed scoring opportunities?

Who else than the guy who began Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night by being shunted from the first line to the third?

This is how the everyone-contributes, trust-Barry Trotz’s-hunches Islanders roll.

After their 2-1 victory over the Lightning 12:30 into double overtime, they are back in the series, now trailing 3-2 with Game 6 set for Thursday night.

The last time they were six victories way from the Cup was 1984, when they lost in the Final..

"Obviously, the last few games in particular, my line hasn’t had a lot of success offensively," Eberle said. "But you switch things up.

"We’ve always been a team that we win by committee and we lose by committee, so you get a chance with a couple of other guys, it’s just fresh. We’ve kind of got a next-man-up mentality and it shows with the character win we had tonight."

Eberle was not the only struggling first-liner to play a part in the game-winner.

Anders Lee actually had more to do with it than Eberle, grabbing the puck after the Lightning’s Kevin Shattenkirk fanned on a shot at the point, racing down the ice and putting a perfect pass on Eberle’s stick.

"Lee-sy did a heck of a job chipping it to himself and then making a great pass to me," Eberle said. "I just kind of had to put it in."

He beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to the glove side, and the celebration was on.

Later Trotz said Eberle tends to put pressure on himself when not scoring, because "he has a pretty high level of expectation he puts on himself."

Through four games, the top line of Lee, Mathew Barzal and Eberle had been held to six points, three of them on an early power play goal by Eberle in Game 1.

This led to much consternation, particularly with the Lightning’s top line dominating.

So for Game 5, Trotz replaced Eberle with Cal Clutterbuck, moving Eberle down to join Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Matt Martin. But late in the game, Eberle often was back with Barzal and Lee.

Because the Islanders dressed only 11 forwards, there was a lot of mixing and matching.

"Guys were playing with everybody," Eberle said. "We had 11 forwards and lines were shuffling. I don’t even think there were lines."

Perhaps, but Trotz did not mince words in recent days about his need for more production from his three top-liners, and he got it. Barzal assisted on the first goal.

It was a sweet moment for Eberle on multiple levels. The fact the game was in Edmonton was one of them. In 2017, he played 13 goalless playoff games for the Oilers.

As an Islander, he had one goal in each game last season in a first-round sweep of the Penguins, then had three in the first five postseason games this season.

But he had only that one in the next 15 games, during which he frequently was in excellent position to score.

That frustration dissipated in one glorious moment on Tuesday night.

"He deserved it," said Johnny Boychuk, who dressed for the first time since Aug. 1. "We need those timely goals from [Eberle and Lee], and tonight was one of those times."

This is the kind of story the Islanders often tell about themselves, a four-line team that needs contributions from everywhere to counter its lack of elite star power.

Normally Eberle is not the sort of player they are talking about, because he is one of their bigger names, and he signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract after last season.

So Eberle is expected to do big things. Lately, he hadn’t been. Then, when it mattered most, he did.

Asked about a knack for scoring big goals in the past, he said of Tuesday’s, "It’s the biggest in a long time, for sure."

New York Sports