Mathew Barzal was itching for his first career playoff goal. After getting a goal waved off in Game 1 of the second round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Isles sophomore center finally broke through in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. Barzal was credited for the goal, but the actual act of scoring was not quite in the fashion he imagined for how he would score his first goal of the postseason.
"It was a weird bounce off [Jaccob Slavin's] stick," Barzal said. "That's how it goes sometimes. It was fortunate to go in. I don't base my game off of goal scoring. I'm just trying to play well. [I] got a fortunate bounce there. It's nice to get one regardless."
After racking up a team-high of five assists through the Isles' first-round sweep over the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was only fitting that Barzal's first playoff goal came with the intention of feeding Josh Bailey on the backdoor during the Isles first period power play. Barzal scored the Isles sole goal of the start of the series against the Hurricanes, who hold a 3-1 goal advantage through two games, and he can now cross first-career playoff goal off his personal checklist.
"Barzy is a phenomenal player," captain and linemate Anders Lee said. "Big players step up in big moments. He's done that all of playoffs."
Video: CAR@NYI, Gm2: Barzal scores PPG as pass deflects in
The goal marked Barzal's sixth point (1G, 5A) of the postseason, one back of linemate Jordan Eberle for the team lead. Barzal has recorded a point in five of the Islanders' six playoff games and the 21-year-old was recently promoted back to the Islanders top power play unit for the first time since March 17.
"You really make a name for yourself in playoffs," Trotz said of Barzal. "The top players have to really fight for every inch to get be a top player in this league. There's lots of skilled guys who could be top players, but they're not willing to fight for those inches. There are lots of skilled guys who could be top players, but they're not willing to fight for those inches. I've said there's two kinds of players, there's players and there's businessmen. And we're looking for players."
Barzal has certainly been that, dancing his way into the Pittsburgh zone for the chance that led to Josh Bailey's OT winner in Game 1 vs Pittsburgh, as well as assisting on Eberle's game-winner in Game 2. He's been a key to the Islanders offense thus far.
After scoring on Sunday, Barzal was buzzing the rest of Game 2. As Carolina doubled up the score 2-1 with two goals over the span of 48 seconds to start the third period, the Coquitlam, British Columbia native continued to create Grade-A chances for the Isles. Barzal had one of the Isles three third period posts, as he struck iron during the Islanders second power play.
"It's no surprise to us," Bailey said. "He's been a rock for us all year. He's obviously a special talent." That's what we expect from him and that's what he expects of himself. That's what we need from all of us is that consistent play throughout the playoffs."
The 2018 Calder Trophy winner and shifty center has continued to elevate his game during his first postseason appearance. This is what he Barzal, who takes nearly every optional morning skate, lives for and he's embraced the challenge of stepping up when the stakes are at the highest. They haven't been any higher than they are now, as the Isles look to rally out of an 0-2 series hole in Carolina, as the Isles will be counting on Barzal.
"Ever since I was young, I've loved playing in those big moments in front of lots of people," Barzal said. "It doesn't matter if it's overtime and whatnot or just big moments in a game. Playoffs especially, I love the atmosphere and I love the intensity. It's just about being competitive. I try to come out big in tight moments. We've still got some [high stake moments] left ahead. This is where I can step up. [This is the time] to show up."