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Islanders' work ethic key in victory against Lightning in Eastern Final

Keep season alive thanks to penalty kill, stifling defense, Varlamov saves in OT

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Thirty-three years after they won what is known as "The Easter Epic," the New York Islanders kept their season alive in what the history books may call the "The September Saga."

Three minutes before the clock struck midnight on the East Coast, right wing Jordan Eberle finished a 2-on-1 with Anders Lee when he roofed a shot over Andrei Vasilevskiy's glove at 12:30 of the second overtime to extend New York's season with a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Tuesday. 

Game 6 will be played in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final, on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). 

"The boys battled hard tonight," Eberle said. "We had some moments in the D zone, especially in overtime, where we had a broken stick collapse and just held on. Just wait for our chance. 

"Obviously to score that and continue to move on and give ourselves another chance in a couple of days, it's huge." 

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm5: Eberle nets one-timer for 2OT winner

This one didn't last nearly as long as Game 7 of the 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals, when Pat LaFontaine scored at 8:47 of quadruple overtime in New York's 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals at Capital Centre on April 18, 1987, which ended after 2 a.m. Easter Sunday. 

But it still took 92:30 to determine a winner, making it the fourth longest in this round since the conference finals format was adopted for the 1981-82 season, and the longest possible elimination game.  

In his pregame address, Islanders coach Barry Trotz told his players to "have fun with this. We've worked too hard. Let's not have any regrets."  

Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov certainly got the message. Varlamov, who made 12 of his 36 saves over the two overtimes, raced to center ice before diving headfirst over the Lightning blue line and into the celebration following Eberle's game-winner. 

"I just jumped because I was so excited for us," Varlamov said. "Our season was on the line today in this game. When we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through like in that moment. I was just so happy for the guys and I was so happy for us. … We have a chance to continue to play." 

As happy as Varlamov is, no one is probably more elated than Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier, who was assessed a four-minute penalty with 1:23 remaining in the third period after his stick made contact with Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev's face. Varlamov helped bail out his teammate with a pad save against Nikita Kucherov 59 seconds into overtime. 

"That's a critical part of the game," Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock said. "… When [Beauvillier] came out of the box, he was pretty relieved. It's a tough call, it is a penalty, but those things happen and we knew we were going to do the job for him." 

Video: Eberle, Islanders stave off elimination with 2OT win

New York dodged a bullet at 3:50 of double overtime when Kucherov hit the outside of the near post on a rebound after Varlamov had to make a save against Ondrej Palat. The Lightning were the only ones generating chances for a long stretch; in fact, Beauvillier's wrist shot at 4:14 was the Islanders' first in 16:36. 

Their 24 shots were the fewest in any NHL game going that long since 1967.  

"Our guys didn't waver," Trotz said. "They just kept grinding. We kept grinding and grinding. You can get some energy from it, there's no question."  

The grinding started at the top. Lee, the Islanders captain, started the 2-on-1 when he flipped the puck off the end boards to himself after Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk fanned on a shot at the right point. He slipped the puck to Eberle, who entered with one goal in his previous 15 games, for a quick one-timer at the edge of the right circle. 

It was also a nice reward for Lee, who played a long shift in the defensive zone during the first overtime and blocked a shot from Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian without a stick at 14:56. Lee had given his stick to teammate Scott Mayfield after the defenseman lost his earlier in the shift. 

"He's obviously our leader for a reason," Eberle said. "He's a big body and a lot of the times you see him battling down low and taking out one, two, three guys and winning battles. It's just the stuff you expect to see from him and he does it the majority of the time. He doesn't get enough credit for the passion that he plays with and the work ethic and it's definitely contagious throughout our lineup." 

The Islanders' work ethic keeps them in the Edmonton bubble for at least two more days. They know there's still a steep hill to climb against a Lightning team that hasn't lost consecutive games all postseason.  

"This team's battled hard to get to where we are," Eberle said. "We're not finished." 

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