Who knows where it goes from here for the Islanders. But at least they’ve given themselves at least one more chance to find out.
And they’re clearly following coach Barry Trotz’s instructions to "have fun."
"We’ve worked too hard," Trotz said he told his team before the fifth-longest game in franchise history. "Let’s not have any regrets."
So, the Eastern Conference finals will have a Game 6 on Thursday night. That’s because Jordan Eberle finished a two-on-one rush with relentless captain Anders Lee for the winner at 12:30 of the second overtime for a 2-1 victory over the Lightning in Tuesday night’s Game 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
It’s because Semyon Varlamov was his usual, steadying, stoic force in making 36 saves before releasing his overflowing emotions with a joyous head-first slide into the celebration pile. It’s because "old school" defenseman Johnny Boychuk, in Trotz’s words, provided fresh legs and a refreshing injection of energy in his first game since Aug. 1 as the coach opted to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the first time since Oct. 25. And it’s because the Islanders killed off a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Anthony Beauvillier that bridged the end of the third period and the start of the first overtime.
"That was a critical part of the game," said defenseman Ryan Pulock, who gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead with a power-play blast from the left circle at 15:41 of the first period. "The four-minute kill did a good job early, then we had a chance to regroup in the intermission. Beau came out pretty relieved. It’s a tough call but it is a penalty. Those things happen and we knew we were going to do the job for him."
"Our guys didn’t waver," Trotz said. "We kept grinding and grinding. You can get some energy from [a win like this], no question. We’ve had some heartbreakers, three overtime [losses] to Philadelphia. We lost a game late here. But we don’t give up. That’s a good sign for going forward and it gives some good energy, hopefully, for the next game."
The Islanders, in the conference finals for the first time since 1993 and looking for their first berth in the Stanley Cup Final since 1984, lost Game 2 to the Lightning on Nikita Kucherov’s goal with 8.8 seconds left in regulation.
The winner of this series will face the Stars in the Cup Final after Dallas eliminated Vegas in five games.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots for the Lightning. That included denying Mathew Barzal at the crease at 5:47 of the first overtime.
The Lightning played without top-line center Brayden Point for the second time – he also missed the Islanders’ 5-3 win in Game 3 with an undisclosed injury – while the Islanders played with their revamped lineup.
Trotz shuffled his lines, dropping Eberle to Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line with Matt Martin to start and putting Cal Clutterbuck on Barzal’s right wing with Lee. By the third period, though, Trotz had reunited his top line, though line continuity was fluid throughout the game with 11 forwards.
It was Lee who created the rush that led to Eberle’s winner, chipping the puck to himself off the boards after Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk fanned on a shot.
"That was my biggest one in a long time, for sure," said Eberle, who scored his fifth goal of the postseason but first since Game 1 of this series. "This team battled hard to where we are and we’re not finished.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman tied the game at 1-1 at 4:00 of the second period with a short-side shot from just inside the left circle off a long rebound of Blake Coleman’s initial shot. It was his eight goal of the postseason, the most for a defenseman in the playoffs since the Rangers’ Brian Leetch had 11 in 1994.
The Lightning appeared to take a 2-1 lead at 10:01 of the second period as Cedric Paquette outmuscled Scott Mayfield for the puck in the corner and fed an open Carter Verhaeghe. Trotz correctly challenged that Paquette was easily four feet offside chasing the puck with Mayfield, likely the reason the defenseman eased up on the play.