Since Wednesday’s last-second loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has said he likes his team’s process and the Eastern Conference Final was close to changing direction.
At least for one game, the Trotz’s words were prophetic.
Brock Nelson’s goal with 3:25 left in the third period delivered the Islanders a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay in Game 3.
The Islanders, who blew a two-goal lead earlier in the third, are now down 2-1 in the series.
“I’ve been preaching about this group, this group is special with the resiliency,” Trotz said after Friday night’s game. “This is our fourth series, not our third. We’ve had to battle through double overtime losses, a lot of different things. Our first game getting into this bubble and losing the way we did.
“That says a lot for this group to be able to mentally park it and focus on the moment.”
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 12, 2020
Off a Tampa Bay defensive zone turnover forced by Nelson, Josh Bailey set the play up to Anthony Beauvillier who had a pass initially blocked before flung a blind pass to Nelson on the right for a shot that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on the far side.
“It’s nice to get a bounce back win,” Nelson said. “A lot of guys are big for us, (Semyon Varlamov) was big. Obviously on that play Beau made a nice play. … It’s nice to get that win.”
In a back-and-forth game with plenty of momentum swings, the Islanders finished 0-for-2 on the power play and failed to kill off their one penalty, but Varlamov was strong in net otherwise. He made 34 saves on 37 shots overall, including six high danger shots.
The teams traded four goals in the third period, but the Islanders got the final two to win their first Conference Final game in 27 years.
Leading the way with two points, Nelson’s effort could not be understated after what he encountered in Game 2, according to Trotz. It was Nelson who took the brunt of Alex Killorn’s boarding penalty that led to a one-game suspension for the Tampa Bay forward.
“Brock’s a little bit, I would say, under-the-radar to a lot of people,” Trotz said. “He’s grown so much over the years and he’s battling after that last game. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t surprised, knowing Brock. He just so determined and said, ‘I’m going to bounce back.’ He’s resilient so I really liked his game.”
The Islanders got ahead a little more than halfway in the first period on Cal Clutterbuck’s second goal of the playoffs. After Jean-Gabriel Pageau missed a golden chance at the side of the net, Vasilevskiy fumbled with his right leg pad as a strap came loose.
As the puck remained in the zone, it bounced to Clutterbuck and he buried it high blocker side.
— Andrew Battifarano (@AndrewAtBatt) September 12, 2020
But similar to Game 2, Tampa Bay answered back quickly with a Mikhail Sergachev goal at 16:31. Yannni Gourde slid the puck low past Clutterbuck and the defenseman jumped into the play and roofed a backhander over Varlamov’s glove.
Shortly after a missed power play in the second, Mathew Barzal grabbed the puck along the nearside wall and fed Pageau in the slot. Adam Pelech skated into the left circle and grabbed a Pageau pass and ripped a shot by Vasilevskiy’s glove at 11:50.
With the goal, Pelech became the 17th different goal-scorer this postseason for the Islanders. Only the 1983 playoff team (18 different scorers) had more.
Brock Nelson sends a pretty pass to Anthony Beauvillier and the Islanders double their lead 🔥
— SNY (@SNYtv) September 12, 2020
Exactly two minutes later, Beauvillier padded the lead on a play all set up by Nelson.
Nelson skated in the slot and dragged to his backhand but instead of shooting he circled behind the net. As he turned around he fired a pass in front of the crease to Beauvillier, who notched his ninth goal of the playoffs.
Two and a half minutes into the third, Tampa Bay answered on the power play. Jordan Eberle took a holding penalty in the offensive zone, which led to Ondrej Palat’s goal. Tyler Johnson knotted things up when he redirected a point shot with 7:56 left.
But it was Nelson who answered back with a goal and his second point of the night.
“Obviously it’s disappointing when you have a lead going into the third, chance to win a game and get back in the series and you give it up,” Nelson said. “But we stuck with it and stayed the course and kinda got right back on it.”
Pageau sealed the win with an empty-netter wit 36 seconds left. He was whacked on the play by Nikita Kucherov, leading to pushing and shoving after the whistle. On the ensuing draw, Matt Martin and Barclay Goodrow dropped the gloves.
“I think he’s a competitor and I think he was trying to get his stick on puck and he got the back of my leg, so it wasn’t too close,” Pageau said of Kucherov. “We’re going to battle everyone, everyone on our team tonight competed for a full 60 (minutes).”
Pageau picked up two points after filling centering in Casey Cizikas’s usual spot. After the game, Trotz said it’s still unclear if Cizikas will suit up for the next game.
Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m as the New York Islanders look to even up the series.
“I didn’t like that we took that early penalty, give Tampa some momentum in the third and then they get it tied up on a tip. We sorta got our composure back and playing again,” Trotz said. “And that’s what I liked about our group.”