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He's not dynamic, but Anders Lee is just right for these Islanders

Anders Lee of the Islanders celebrates the game-winning

Anders Lee of the Islanders celebrates the game-winning goal by Jordan Eberle against Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on Wednesday in Edmonton, Alberta. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

Scott Mayfield dropped his broken stick with 5:45 left in the first overtime Tuesday night, surely giving Islanders fans flashbacks to when the very same thing led to a double-overtime loss to the Flyers two weeks prior.

But then Anders Lee started doing Anders Lee things.

First, he handed his lefty stick to the righthanded Mayfield, because defensemen get priority in such situations.

Then he began stalking the ice, stickless, doing what he could to disrupt the Lightning, first shoving defenseman Zach Bogosian over the blue line, later sliding to block a Bogosian slapshot with his left knee.

Finally, after an excruciating, season-threatening 90 seconds, the Islanders cleared the zone and Lee got to the bench.

Oh, and there was this, too: One overtime later, he did most of the work setting up Jordan Eberle’s game-winner 12:30 into double-OT, giving the Isles a 2-1 victory and shaving their Eastern Conference finals deficit to 3-2.

"He’s obviously our leader for a reason," Eberle said later. "He’s a big body, and a lot of the times you see him battling down low and taking on one, two, three guys and winning battles.

"It’s just the stuff you expect to see from him, and he does it a majority of the time. He does not get enough credit for the passion that he plays with and the work ethic. It’s definitely contagious through our lineup."

Before Game 5, the top-line trio of Lee, Mathew Barzal and Eberle had been slumping, and coach Barry Trotz said he needed more from them. He got it.

"You start with your captain, Anders Lee," Trotz said. "A good example is when he lost his stick, he gave it to our defenseman. He had that long shift. He’s blocking shots, he’s all in. He was exhausted and he still found a way."

On Wednesday, Lee said that after donating his stick to Mayfield, it was just a matter of "trying to hold on, try to find a way to get the puck out and live to see another day."

On the game-winner, he chipped the puck to himself after the Lightning’s Kevin Shattenkirk flubbed a shot from the point, then he sped down the ice and fed Eberle perfectly.

Even though he is a former 40-goal scorer, Lee lacks the dynamic skill set of his predecessor as captain, John Tavares, or the injured Tampa Bay captain, Steven Stamkos.

But he is just right for these Islanders, who are more apt to win with defense and grit than fancy stuff.

On the first goal on Tuesday, he disrupted Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on Ryan Pulock’s long shot.

"He’s as effective of a player in front of the net that there is in the league," NBC analyst Ed Olczyk told Newsday on Wednesday. "And I’m not just talking about making plays or redirections.

"I’m talking about the ability to play that role and hang around as long as you can and take away the eyes of the goaltender. He’s just very, very intelligent when it comes to playing that way . . . He plays to his strength. That’s leadership."

Olczyk later added, "A guy like that, he may be very predictable, but man oh man, it’s going to take its toll (on opponents), especially in a playoff series."

Olczyk, a 1994 Ranger who played with a captain of some renown named Mark Messier, said he has followed Lee since Lee was a teenager and has been impressed with how he carries himself on and off the ice.

About that off-ice leadership, Lee has had a busy summer helping the team navigate life in the COVID-19 bubbles and being the Islanders’ spokesman on social justice issues when the playoffs paused for two days.

Mostly, the Islanders are an experienced, self-regulating team that has followed Lee and other veterans this far, and does not want to stop.

"You just want to keep that going, the good vibes, the feelings, all those things that let you go out there and play free," Lee said. "So I think all the leaders on our team, everyone in our room, is really good about that."

Game 6 is Thursday. Six wins to go.

New York Sports