Isles on brink of sweeping past Panthers
Eberle, Varlamov give New York 2-0 lead in qualifying round
Jordan Eberle scored twice and Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves Tuesday afternoon in Toronto as the Islanders beat the Florida Panthers, 4-2, to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifier series.
Eberle, who had four goals and five assists during New York’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals a season ago, snapped a 2-2 deadlock with 3:33 remaining in the second period and added the Isles’ second power-play tally of the day midway through the third stanza to cap the scoring.
“Jordan has had success in this league and is considered a top player, a top-six forward,” Isles head coach Barry Trotz said as his team prepared for a quick turnaround ahead of Wednesday’s Game 3.
“Those guys have patience,” Trotz added. “They don’t panic, they’re able to slow things down … Those players understand the game very well, time and space and slow it down when everything is a little more chaotic.”
Trotz refused to tip his hand prior to the series as to whom would start in net, but Varlamov appears to have been the perfect choice.
The 32-year-old Russian made 27 saves in Saturday’s series-opening 2-1 victory and was almost as sharp Tuesday despite yielding a first-period goal to Mike Hoffman and Aleksander Barkov’s power-play tally in the second that put the Isles behind by a goal.
“We didn’t get off to the start that we wanted,” Isles defenseman Andy Greene said.
“We had to weather the storm a bit there, but we finally got to our game and you could see us, as we flipped it, we started gaining momentum and playing the way we needed to play and you saw what happened throughout the game there.”
Defenseman Ryan Pulock forged a 2-2 deadlock on the power play at 13:48 of the second period and Eberle’s go-ahead goal came less than three minutes later.
“I looked at our first game and it was a quiet night, we didn’t give up much, but didn’t create much either. Tonight we wanted to make an impact,” Eberle said.
“It was good to see us start to contribute a bit and create some offense.”
Matt Martin also scored for the Isles, who were looking to wrap up the series and punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second year in a row, marking the first time that has happened since the franchise first arrived in Brooklyn in 2015.
“It was a good hockey game, well played, well fought,” said Martin. “We’re happy to have a 2-0 lead, hopefully we can finish the job [Wednesday], you don’t want to give that team any life… We have to be prepared for a big one.”
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