There was a little prove people wrong fueling Jordan Eberle's game one playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. One of those people was himself.
Eberle was stung from his trip to the 2017 playoffs, where he recorded a pair of assists in 13 games with the Edmonton Oilers, his lone trip to the playoffs up until this season. The feeling of a sub-standard playoff ate at Eberle over the past two years, so he was determined to change things in a second chance with the Isles.
"I had waited so long to get into the playoffs, finally had a chance and didn't play well," Eberle said. "You try and move on from it and it sucks. You don't ever want that title. It definitely motivated me throughout the last couple of years. You finally get an opportunity here and it's something you don't want to let it down."
With that in his mind, Eberle shot out of a cannon on Wednesday night. The 28-year-old winger put the Islanders ahead 1-0, stopping an Adam Pelech point shot, turning and sliding it through Matt Murray's five-hole at 1:40. Later in the period, Eberle, working down low on the Isles first power-play unit, opened up Kris Letang before feeding a backhand pass to Brock Nelson for the 2-1 tally. Eberle nearly had a second on the Isles next power play, pulling the puck out of a scrum before being denied on a good save by Murray.
Video: PIT@NYI, Gm1: Eberle slips home first playoff goal
"I think he's excited to be playing playoff hockey," Head Coach Barry Trotz said after game one. "He was dancing today and he had a lot of good looks. His strength on the puck, he was getting to the dirty areas and doing all those things you need to do in the playoffs tonight."
Eberle finished the regular season with 37 points (19G, 18A) in 78 games, his fewest since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. But the nine-year NHL veteran finished the season strong, scoring five goals in the final seven games, including a pair of goals in the Isles' stunning comeback in Winnipeg. He's done it by playing a more assertive brand of hockey and getting to the interior of the ice, exactly where he scored his game one goal.
"The last 10 or 15 games or so he's been definitely one of our best players and burying and going to the net," linemate Mathew Barzal said. "He's a super smart player and his numbers this year have disguised how he's been playing."
Eberle, a six-time, 20-goal scorer, said he's been playing with confidence down the stretch and that bodes well for himself and the Islanders. Still, as much of a relief as it was to score his first playoff goal, there's more work to be done before he can call this postseason a success.
"That takes a weight off your shoulders. Any time you've had heartache or distress, anything positive that can come in the same situation [is good]," Trotz said. "Sometimes you have to fail a little bit to have success. I think maybe took that to heart a bit and wanted to prove to everybody that he was going to have a good playoffs. It's a good start, but it's only one game. No career was made after one game."