By Lenn Robbins
After beating the Florida Panthers in their Stanley Cup Qualifiers series, we wrote that of the five things we learned about the Islanders resiliency was No. 1. How’s this for resiliency?
With less than two minutes to go in the second period, the Islanders were down 2-0 and had played about as unwise and undisciplined playoff game possible. But when Jordan Eberle scored at the 18:57 mark, it ignited a four-goal barrage in 12 minutes and 58 seconds that gave the Islanders a 4-2 win and 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
So, to recap: Down 2-0 with a little more than one period to go, the Islanders win going away.
How’s that for resiliency?
“It was huge,” Islanders captain Ander Lee said on MSG Networks of Eberle’s goal. “Any time you score that late in a period, let alone down two, it kind of got our legs going a little bit, a little momentum going into the next period.”
Lee, who was the Islanders’ lightning rod, scored 51 seconds into the third period by muscling his way in front, tying the game at 2-2. Josh Bailey scored a shorthanded goal six minutes later and the Islanders had gone from giving away a crucial Game 1 to rallying for the win.
Five minutes into the first period it was obvious the Islanders had come to fight. Unfortunately, they didn’t come to think.
Lee, who isn’t known for fighting, tangled with fellow pacifist John Carlson just 2:33 into the game. Carlson went after Lee after the captain crushed Nicklas Backstrom with a clean check that knocked the Washington center out of the game.
Washington tough guy Tom Wilson went after Lee later in the period. The Isle’s captain held his own. And he already had set the tone.
The Caps bemoaned the hit. Coach Todd Reirden, who didn’t have an update on Backstrom’s status, called the hit “predatory.” We’ll call it playoff hockey and let the league decide if it warrants a fine and/or suspension. A fine? Maybe. A suspension? No.
“Playoff hockey should be right up Anders’ wheelhouse, if you will,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “He’s big. He’s strong. He scored an important goal. He had a hit. And he responded to (Tom) Wilson’s challenge. What more can you ask from a leader.”
Not much. What can be asked of the Islanders is that they stop crossing the line between aggression and violation. The Islanders had outhit the Capitals, 29-22, through two periods but they spent 21 minutes in the penalty box on nine penalties. Both of Washington’s first two goals came courtesy of T.J. Oshie on the power play.
That’s how you lose almost any game but certainly a playoff game. Not these Islanders. They stayed out of the box in the third period (one penalty) and rallied. Goalie Semyon Varlanov (24 saves) kept the Islanders in the game until they settled down.
“Our team is smart enough to know to look at the other side,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018 before switching sides two weeks later. “They’ve got maybe the greatest goal scorer who’s ever played the game. We don’t want to be on the penalty kill if we can help it. We’ll play five-on-five with anybody in the league.”