PITTSBURGH — Jordan Eberle‘s only playoff appearance before this season was mostly forgettable.
He went 13 games without scoring a goal, was limited to just two assists, and became the postseason scapegoat for a dysfunctional organization (Edmonton) that was on the brink of falling apart for reasons that were (and still are) far bigger than him. The response that offseason, naturally, was to essentially give him away to the New York Islanders in a one-for-one deal for Ryan Strome.
It has been a very different postseason experience for him this time around.
Eberle was one of the driving forces behind the Islanders’ stunning four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins that concluded with a 3-1 win on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
After failing to score in all of his playoff games in 2016, Eberle has not only scored in every playoff game he has played so far in 2019, but he has scored some game-changing goals in the biggest possible moments.
Just look at the rundown of his goals so far:
- In Game 1, he opened the scoring for the Islanders and set the tone for the series just 1:40 into the game.
- In Game 2, it was the game-winning goal midway through the third period to help give the Islanders a commanding lead in the series.
- In Game 3, it was a picture perfect snipe from a terrible angle that tied the game just one minute after the Penguins had taken an early lead.
- In Game 4, it was exactly the same situation as his goal on an odd-man rush at the 2:09 mark of the first period came just a minute-and-a-half after the Penguins scored on the game’s first shift, erasing any momentum they may have been able to build.
[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
In the four games the Islanders spent less than five minutes playing from behind due to their quick responses, and in two games it was goals from Eberle that erased those few deficits.
He has found a home on the Islanders’ top line alongside Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee, and in a series that featured the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on the other side of the ice, it was the Islanders’ trio that dominated on the scoreboard.
“[Barzal] is finding me in areas where I am able to finish plays off,” said Eberle after Tuesday’s win, when asked what is going through his mind when the puck is on his stick right now.
“Since they put me, [Barzal], and [Lee] together the puck has been going in a lot more. I don’t know what we finished the season with, but it seemed like we scored every game. That is obviously huge and we want to continue playing that way. These games get tougher and tougher as you move forward, we have to be ready and realize that.”
They may not have scored in every game, but they definitely showed they could be a dangerous trio that could spark the team’s offense. Over the final 10 games of the regular season that trio outscored opponents by a 6-2 margin in more than 122 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, while also dominating the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance numbers.
That domination has carried over to the playoffs.
In the four-game series against Pittsburgh the Eberle, Barzal, Lee line combined for four goals, was not on the ice for a single goal against, and controlled more than 60 percent of the scoring chance and high-danger chances when they were on the ice.
Other than perhaps the play of the two goalies (and especially Robin Lehner in the Islanders’ net), that line was probably the difference in the series.
“You start to get a lot of confidence before the playoffs begin, and you want to continue to play well,” said Eberle. “The biggest thing about my game, and [Barzal], and [Lee] is you want to have the coach trust you, and I think Barry does now with the way we have played defensively and able to break the puck out and go down and score. We are known for our defense and I think first and foremost that is where we want to be.”
The Islanders have a lot of questions to face this summer when it comes to pending unrestricted free agents, with Eberle and Lee being two of the biggest. If nothing else, they are putting together a pretty convincing argument that they are worth keeping around and paying because of the way they have played alongside the team’s new franchise player (Barzal).
They also don’t have to worry about that decision for (at least) a couple more weeks, thanks in large parts to Eberle’s goal-scoring binge.
He had a rather simple explanation for how all of it is happening for him
“Sometimes when you shoot the puck, it goes in.”
Because the puck keeps going in, the Islanders’ season will keep going on.
Related: Islanders shut down Penguins again to complete sweep
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.