PITTSBURGH — In the calm, quiet, all-business visitors’ locker room at the PPG Paints Arena, after the Islanders had finished their stunning sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 3-1 victory Tuesday, someone asked forward Jordan Eberle what it felt like during the series when the puck was on his stick.
Eberle couldn’t help but laugh.
“You know, [Mathew Barzal]’s finding me in areas where I’m able to finish plays off,’’ Eberle said, after he quickly composed himself. “Since they put me, ‘Barzy’ and [Anders Lee] together, the puck’s been going in a lot more. I don’t know what we finished the season with, but it seemed like we scored every game, so, that’s obviously huge.’’
Aside from goaltender Robin Lehner, Eberle was the hottest Islander in the series, scoring a goal in each of the four games. His goal Tuesday tied the score at 1 just 1:34 after Pittsburgh opened the scoring on Jake Guentzel’s goal 35 seconds in. It was the third straight game in the series in which the Penguins scored the first goal, only to have the Islanders tie the score almost immediately. And it was the second straight time it was Eberle who got that tying goal – he did it in Game 3, scoring just 28 seconds after Garrett Wilso opened the scoring in that game, which the Islanders won, 4-1.
“It’s disappointing,’’ Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, “because it seemed like that was the case the whole series. Every time we score and get some momentum, we give it back shortly thereafter. And it’s such a game of momentum. If you can hang on [to the lead], it certainly helps your team.’’
Islanders coach Barry Trotz pointed to those quick tying goals as a turning point both in Game 4 and in the series.
“We were able to respond right after a goal, and we really didn’t allow them to carry momentum for any length of time,’’ Trotz said.
“When you get momentum — the crowd cheering when they score first, and you’re able to get the next one and kind of quiet them down — you know, it’s big,’’ he said. “Playoffs is all about momentum; there are [momentum] shifts all over the place, and that’s obviously a good shift.’’
The trio of Eberle, Barzal and Lee totaled five goals and nine assists in the series. Eberle, the Isles’ leading scorer in the postseason, with 4-2-6, connected on four of 15 shots, good for 26.7 percent shooting. That was second to Josh Bailey, who scored three goals on nine shots (33.3 percent).
“Sometimes, when you shoot the puck, it goes in,’’ Eberle shrugged when asked about how hot he was in the series. “Even to finish the season this year, it seemed like we scored every game. You start getting confidence like that, before the playoffs, and you move into it, you just want to continue to play well. The biggest thing about my game, and [Barzal’s] and [Lee’s], you want to have the coach trust you —and I think he does now, with the way we played defensively and able to break the puck out and go down and score.’’