Isles look to force Game 7 vs Lightning
Stanley Cup hopes still alive after double-OT thriller
“Our guys didn’t waver,” beamed head coach Barry Trotz Tuesday night after New York pulled out a thrilling 2-1 double-overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“They just kept grinding and grinding and you can get some energy from it, no question,” Trotz added. “We didn’t give up and that’s a great sign going forward.”
The Isles will get to grind again Thursday night in Game 6 at 8 p.m., after Semyon Varlamov stopped 36 shots and Jordan Eberle ended the second-longest game in team history by putting home a feed from team captain Anders Lee at 12:30 of the second extra session.
“The boys battled hard tonight,” an exhausted Eberle said. “We had some moments in the [defensive] zone, especially in overtime where we had a broken stick, collapsed and just held on, waited for our chance.
“To score that [goal], continue to move on and give ourselves another chance in a couple of days is huge.”
It will be even more huge if the Isles can actually force a Game 7 and flirt with becoming just the second team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the conference finals.
Having dropped a 4-1 decision in Game 4 to the high-powered Lightning, the Isles spent four and a half periods Wednesday sacrificing their bodies in front of pucks and praying that Varlamov would stop whatever snuck through as Tampa Bay peppered the Russian netminder with 37 shots.
“It’s just guys putting their body on the line to win. You do anything to get the win and we did,” said Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who returned from injury to play his first game since Aug. 1.
“Our season was on the line today,” added Varlamov. “When we scored that goal, a lot of emotions going through in that moment. I was just so happy for the guys … we have a chance to continue to play.”
Ryan Pulock gave the Isles an early 1-0 lead Tuesday, slapping a shot through Lee’s screen and past Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at 15:41 of the opening stanza for New York’s second power-play goal of the series.
Victor Hedman evened the contest with his eighth goal of the playoffs and the only one to get past Varlamov in Game 5 at 4:00 of the second period.
After that, the Lightning did all they could to oust the resilient Isles, who held on until Lee picked up the puck at the New York blue line after Tampa’s Kevin Shattenkirk whiffed on a shot.
Lee proceeded up the left side of the ice and deftly passed across to Eberle, who settled matters with his fifth goal of the postseason.
“Things happen quick out there. You’ve got to react. You see the fanned shot. You see Leesy poke it by,” said Eberle of the winning sequence.
“You’ve played this game a long time, you know when you have odd-man rushes and an opportunity is about to come. Leesy made a heck of a play to get the puck over to me.”
Vasilevskiy finished with 22 saves for Tampa Bay, which failed in its first bid to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Western Conference champion Dallas Stars.
“It took the stars aligning on a fanned shot for them to get the break they got,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper lamented. “We had opportunities to put the game away.”
“It came down to one play. It’s tough for us obviously, but this is hockey,” Hedman added. “It’s how you respond to this that’s going to define you as a team. I’m not worried about how our group’s going to respond to this.”
Neither are the Isles, who staved off elimination in Game 5 and are hoping to do the same come Thursday night as they purse the franchise’s first Finals berth since 1984.
“We just have to put it behind us and look forward to the next one,” said Boychuk.
Game 7, if necessary, is scheduled for Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
Isle Have Another: Boychuk, who hadn’t played since the Isles’ Game 1 win over Florida in the qualifying round, blocked a team-high six shots in just over 12 minutes of ice time in Game 5. … Mathew Barzal assisted on Pulock’s goal, giving him 11 helpers in 21 playoff games this year. … The only previous team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals was the 2000 New Jersey Devils, who swept past the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games before beating Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals. Current Isles Team President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello was the architect of that team, which won three Cups overall.
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