The New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup dream appeared to be slipping away.
But trailing by two goals in the second period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders dug down and wrote a different ending.
Anthony Beauvillier scored 1:08 into overtime to complete New York’s comeback in a 3-2 win Wednesday.
The Islanders victory forced Game 7 against the Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Friday. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Montreal Canadiens or Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s a privilege to still be playing and obviously it’s exciting,” Beauvillier said after scoring the first Stanley Cup Playoff overtime goal of his career. “As a kid, you kind of try to imagine yourself going to Game 7 and having a good game and having good moments with your teammates. I think we’ve earned the right to go back and play Game 7. Obviously, it’s going to be a lot of fun and a big opportunity for us.”
The Islanders have not reached the Stanley Cup Final since 1984, when their run of four straight championships was ended by the Edmonton Oilers. It seemed that drought was going to be extended another season when Anthony Cirelli scored 12:36 into the second period to increase the Lightning lead to 2-0.
The crazed crowd at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, went silent, and for a moment the prospect of the Islanders’ long run at the building ending with a disappointing loss — New York is scheduled to begin playing at UBS Arena next season — began to look very real. At that point, the Lightning had scored 12 straight goals since falling behind 3-0 in the second period of the Islanders’ 3-2 win in Game 4 on Saturday. That included the Tampa Bay’s 8-0 win in Game 5 on Monday.
But with their season teetering on the brink against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Islanders responded quickly. Jordan Eberle scored on a backhand from between the circles to pull the Islanders within 2-1 at 14:22 and give them hope heading into the third period.
“You’re down 2-0 in Game 6, I don’t think it takes much to mentally stay in it and be excited,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal said. “Game 6 at home in a tough spot down 2-0, but we’re obviously a resilient group. We knew we had a lot of time on the clock still, so we just stuck with it.”
Barzal played a big role in the comeback, assisting on Eberle’s goal and also setting up defenseman Scott Mayfield‘s goal from the bottom of the right face-off circle that tied the game 2-2 with 8:44 left in the third. New York had to survive a Tampa Bay power play after Matt Martin was called for a high-sticking minor with 5:57 remaining, with goalie Semyon Varlamov making five saves, before heading to overtime.
The Islanders were in the same situation against the Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final last season. Cirelli scored 13:18 into overtime to give the Lightning a 2-1 series-clinching win.
No one had to remind the Islanders of that.
“We were just trying to give ourselves a chance in Game 7,” Eberle said. “I think that’s kind of the only thing we had in our minds tonight. We go down two, and you just want to keep pushing, and we found a way to get two and give ourselves a chance in overtime and ultimately did it.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he told the players before overtime, “Stick to the process. Stick to what we’re doing.” And that’s what they did.
Beauvillier intercepted a pass from Lightning forward Blake Coleman in the right circle and snapped a shot in over goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s glove to give the Islanders a storybook victory, but one they hope won’t be the end of their story this season.
“These are great moments,” Trotz said. “You’re going off the ice and everybody’s hugging each other. … It’s quite a sight and it was a moment that you’ll remember. These are big moments and great memories to have. But we’ve got to get another one.”