The New York Islanders fought off their first elimination game of the Eastern Conference Final, but will need to continue to win to keep their hopes of a Stanley Cup still alive. The Islanders head into Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning trailing three games to two in the best-of seven-series after a memorable game-winning goal from Jordan Eberle in the second overtime.
Stick with the Same Lineup
Head coach Barry Trotz used the 11 forwards/7 defensemen lineup just once in the regular season, but utilized it in Game 5. It allowed for Johnny Boychuk to break into the lineup and gave more ice-time to New York’s superior players. Trotz also shuffled his lines entirely for the first time in the postseason. With Casey Cizikas out for the rest of the playoffs, New York switched their lines up and played Jordan Eberle on the third line with Matt Martin and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Eberle was far more noticeable and scored the game-winner in overtime. Trotz has also been very conservative to push his forwards 20 or more minutes. With Tuesday’s game going into double overtime, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, and Barzal played over 30 minutes. They should continue to see a lot of ice-time as they were the main trio to get double-shifted with one fewer forward in the lineup as they all played exceptionally well to keep their season alive.
One area in particular that the Islanders have struggled has been early in games. While they scored the opening goal in four out of the five games in the series, they have been outplayed in the first 10 minutes in about every contest. It will be important to score early and put doubt into Tampa Bay that they possibly will have to play a Game 7.
“You just have to maintain that momentum that we earned last night and carry that into the next game,” said Anders Lee. “Similarly, our backs are against the wall and we have to come out flying.”@NYIslanders
The key for New York will be to get some shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy and convert on their opportunities. Before Eberle’s overtime goal, it seemed like anytime the Lightning had an odd-man rush, it ended in the back of the net, while the Islanders had the pass broken up or a shot go wide.
Contain Tampa Bay’s Defense
The Lightning have shown they are willing to let their defensemen join in on the attack. Victor Hedman has scored three goals in the series, and the Lightning have received 5 of their 18 goals in this series from the defensemen. That will force the Islanders forwards to be on alert and limit their big and physical defenders.
With all their aggressive play, it should continue to lead to the Islanders having odd-man rushes. Pageau had a terrific opportunity last game on a 2-on-1 but telegraphed the pass the whole way as New York didn’t manage a shot on goal. Vasilevskiy has proven to be difficult to beat, but the Islanders will need to generate chances to have any chance of beating him.
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It has been a magical run for the Islanders, and there is no reason to think Game 6 won’t be another close game. The Lightning have been the superior team in the series, but Trotz has gotten the most from his group, and they find themselves two games away from the Stanley Cup Final.