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It was the Jordan Eberle show for Islanders

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

For Islanders’ Eberle, pucks are going in during these playoffs

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Not that long ago, Jordan Eberle was a guy who just couldn’t buy a goal in the postseason. During the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it almost feels like the New York Islanders should challenge him to score the toughest goals possible.

Eberle fit a puck into an almost impossibly small window during the Islanders’ 4-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to take a 3-0 series lead in Game 3. As you can see from that goal (in the clip above this post’s headline), Eberle is combining a dangerous mix of swagger and luck to a red-hot start.

That goal was his third goal in as many games during Round 1, while Eberle’s also managed two assists to give him an impressive five points in three contests. We’ll see if Eberle can carry that into the Islanders’ attempt to sweep the Penguins in Game 4 (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), but either way, he’s off to a blazing start.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

From a sheer production standpoint, Eberle’s totals (three goals, two assists for five points in three games) during this run are night-and-day from a rather disastrous first (and final) postseason with the Edmonton Oilers, when he failed to score a goal on 22 SOG in 13 playoff games back in 2016-17, settling for only two assists.

From an effort standpoint, though? After coming through in Game 1 against the Penguins, Eberle explained something many believed: that he really wasn’t playing that poorly during that fateful final run with Edmonton.

“I didn’t think I was playing that bad,” Eberle said, via NHL.com’s Brian Compton on April 11. “Pucks didn’t go in. I seemed to be the blame of a lot of things. It was a big part probably of why I got traded from Edmonton.”

“It’s nice to get another chance and another rip at it. Try to take advantage of this one.”

Eberle sure has taken advantage of this one, and those pucks sure have been going in.

Of course, Eberle would risk a trip to Barry Trotz’s doghouse if his offense came at too much of a detriment to his overall game. By looking at the numbers, that doesn’t seem to be the case; Eberle looks fantastic across the board according to Natural Stat Trick’s metrics, including the fact that the Islanders have generated 72.09 percent of the scoring chances at even-strength with Eberle on the ice. That’s impressive considering how often Eberle is drawing the likes of Kris Letang and Phil Kessel, and also shows that Trotz is getting the matchups he likes, as there hasn’t been too much exposure to Sidney Crosby.

Can Eberle keep this up?

Over the long haul, definitely not. While Eberle’s generally been one of the skilled shooters you’ll see (watch that goal again if you need a reminder), no one’s comfortably shooting at 25 percent, which is Eberle’s current rate of three goals on 12 SOG.

The truth is somewhere in between that ice-cold run with the Oilers and this scorching-hot stretch with the Islanders, and that’s a point that is worth mentioning, both to fans and to front office members. Scorers, particularly snipers, are prone to slumps and lucky stretches. It’s wiser to zoom out to the whole, rather than fixating on the too-good-to-be-true or, say, trading Eberle away after his worst slump.

Really, though, Islanders fans and Eberle (and Eberle’s accountants) should just enjoy this ride, for however long it lasts. It must be almost as sweet for Eberle to silence his critics as it’s been to score big, “dagger” goals against Pittsburgh and win some huge games.

The Islanders will go for the sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. (Live stream)

MORE: Penguins look lost, broken against Islanders; Isles have all the answers so far

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Playoff Buzzer: Blue Jackets turn Lightning into ‘five alarm fire’

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  • The Columbus Blue Jackets take a stunning 2-0 lead and the Tampa Bay Lightning might be without Nikita Kucherov in Game 3.
  • The New York Islanders are in total control after frustrating the Pittsburgh Penguins again.
  • A surprising offensive star makes a big impact for the St. Louis Blues as they take a 2-0 series lead.
  • The San Jose Sharks power play and goaltending holds them back on Friday.

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (CBJ leads series 2-0)

A year ago the Columbus Blue Jackets opened Round 1 by taking the first two games on the road against a division champion and a Stanley Cup contender. They ended up losing the series. They get a chance to make up for that this year by putting themselves in the exact same position after dismantling the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night, taking a 2-0 series lead. After the game Lightning coach Jon Cooper called the situation a “five alarm fire,” which doesn’t exactly sound encouraging. We will see how — and if — they put it out. Making matters worse: Nikita Kucherov, the MVP front-runner from the regular season, is likely to be suspended for Game 3 after an ugly boarding incident late in the game.

New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (NYI leads series 2-0)

The Islanders have the Penguins on the ropes and looking completely frustrated after two games. The Islanders are controlling the play and making things look easy at times while the Penguins can’t seem to get out of their own way when trying to exit the defensive zone. The series now shifts to Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon and the Penguins need a complete 180 turnaround from just about everybody on their roster to get back in this series.

St. Louis Blues 4, Winnipeg Jets 3 (StL leads series 2-0)

When you start a series on the road you start off hoping to take at least one of the first to so you can steal home-ice advantage. When you win the first two, well, that just puts you at a huge advantage and the St. Louis Blues are there right now after their 4-3 win on Friday night. Oskar Sundqvist scored two goals and Ryan O'Reilly scored the game-winner early in the third period.

Vegas Golden Knights 5, San Jose Sharks 3 (Series tied 1-1)

The San Jose Sharks had some problems on Friday night. Among them, the fact Martin Jones could not get out of the first period and they gave up five goals on 23 shots, and also a terrible power play performance that saw them go 1-for-8 while giving up two shorthanded goals. There is your difference in the game and why the series is going back to Vegas tied 1-1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. Games like this are what the Blue Jackets had in mind when they traded for Matt Duchene. He was incredible on Friday night, scoring his first career playoff goal and finishing with four total points in the Blue Jackets’ win that now has them half way to their first postseason series win in franchise history.

2. Oskar Sundqvist, St. Louis Blues. Before this season Sundqvist had scored just two goals in 72 NHL games. He matched that total on Friday night alone in the Blues’ 4-3 win and is now up to 16 goals in 76 games, including playoffs, this season. Everything is clicking for the Blues right now as they continue to play great defense and get balanced offense from all over their lineup.

3. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. For the second game in a row Eberle was an impact player for the Islanders, tallying his second goal of the series (this one the game-winner) and finishing with two points for an Islanders team that has looked even better than it did during the regular season. 

Highlight Of The Night

Eberle’s game-winning goal was a heck of a finish.

Factoids of the Night

  • This seems almost impossible to believe, but it is true: The Columbus Blue Jackets’ win on Friday night was the first time in the history of the franchise they have won a playoff game by more than one goal. This team is almost 20 years old! [Aaron Portzline]
  • Marc-Andre Fleury is one win away from tying Mike Vernon for seventh on the NHL’s all-time postseason wins list. [NHL PR]
  • This is the first time since 1983 the New York Islanders have had a 2-0 series lead. [NHL PR]

Saturday’s schedule

Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals, Game 2 (WSH leads 1-0), 3 p.m. ET, NBC (Live Stream)
Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators, Game 2 (DAL leads 1-0), 6 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, Game 2 (TOR leads 1-0), 8 p.m. ET, NBC (Live Stream)
Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames, Game 2 (CGY leads 1-0), 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bailey, Eberle help Islanders take commanding 2-0 series lead

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The New York Islanders are now in complete control of their Round 1 series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They were able to take a 2-0 series lead on Friday night with a convincing — and at times dominant — 3-1 win that saw them completely shut down and frustrate the Penguins.

While the Penguins stars were once again quiet and the rest of the team melted down with six penalties, Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle were again playing a starring role for the Islanders.

It was the second game in a row that each of them scored a goal, with Eberle’s goal midway through the third period on a slick shot off the rush, going in the books as the game-winner.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Penguins actually struck first to take their first lead of the series when Erik Gudbranson blasted a slap shot past Islanders goalie Robin Lehner midway through the second period. That lead would be short-lived, however, as the Islanders responded just three minutes later to tie the game, taking advantage of Gudbranson and Marcus Pettersson on an odd-man rush.

Other than Gudbranson’s goal chances were few and far between for the Penguins as they looked like a frustrated and flustered team for the second game in a row. Their inability to smoothly exit the defensive zone has been a constant problem over the first two games, and they have not yet been able to sustain any sort of consistent presence in the offensive zone.

With two games at home upcoming and a roster that has championship experience it is still too soon to totally count them out, but there was nothing over these first two games to indicate they are capable of winning four of the next five playing the way they have.

They are going to need a complete 180 from just about everyone on the roster starting in Game 3 on Sunday if they are going to get back in this series.

Game 3 of Penguins-Islanders will be on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET on NBC

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Patience, poise of Islanders’ Barzal leaves opponents guessing

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Anders Lee shook his head in disbelief after being asked whether he had the patience of Mathew Barzal with the puck at age 21. Barry Trotz described himself as an “idiot” at that age. “God, to think what I was doing at 21,” said the New York Islanders head coach on Thursday.

To watch Barzal control the puck in high-pressure situations, you would think he was an experienced veteran with years under his belt. Instead, he’s a 21-year-old forward in his second full NHL season in the league who just experienced his first ever Stanley Cup Playoff game.

And boy did he leave a mark.

It was Barzal’s play in front of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ net in Game 1 Wednesday night that led to Josh Bailey’s overtime winner.

As Bailey’s chip out of the Islanders’ zone landed along the boards, Barzal and Jordan Eberle entered the Penguins’ zone on a 2-on-1 against Brian Dumoulin, with Zach Aston-Reese rushing to get back. Barzal had a good angle to take a shot from the circle to Matt Murray’s right. Instead, he cut to the slot, which ended with a diving Dumoulin sliding backward in a failed poke-check attempt. Aston-Reese was trying to pick up Eberle and reached him at the side of the net.

Time almost stood still as Barzal stopped on a dime in the slot. He had what opposing teams try to avoid giving up when defending him: time and space.

NBC

A deke and a backhand later, Barzal’s shot rang off the post and fell right to a trailing Bailey, who (after a brief review) sent the Nassau Coliseum crowd home happy.

“I kind over overstayed my stay in front there,” Barzal said of the game-winning goal. “I was just waiting for the right play.”

Scour the scouting reports on Barzal during his draft year and the words “poise” and “patience” appear frequently. Those aren’t traits he’s developed in his two seasons in the NHL, they were with him before he even reached the Islanders.

***

Thomas Hickey remembers Barzal’s first NHL training and the impression that was left. The off-the-charts skating ability wowed the Islanders veterans.

“You don’t have total respect for a guy coming out of junior yet, but I think we all learned pretty quick you don’t want to look silly,” he said.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Making opposing defensemen look silly has been a regular thing for Barzal, who has 40 goals and 107 assists in 166 NHL games. His patience and speed controlling the puck helps create scoring chances. So is there a strategic way to shut him down?

“With him, it’s more what you leave him than anything else because he’s got so many tools,” Hickey said. “Certainly a tough player to defend. You can see that with his cut backs, change of speed, agility. It’s special.”

Barzal’s edge work and ability to go east-to-west on the ice forces opponents to pay attention, and sometimes draws them in to create passing lanes and scoring opportunities for his Islanders teammates. As with all talented players, he thinks the game on a different level than his peers and his vision with the puck is one of his biggest assets.

Now battling against his childhood idol, Sidney Crosby, in a playoff series, it was during NHL All-Star Weekend in January that Barzal got to play with the Penguins captain during the 3-on-3 tournament while representing the Metropolitan Division. After the trio helped the division win the $1M prize, the Islanders forward received plenty of praise from one of the world’s best.

“The way he holds onto the puck, the way he skates, 3-on-3, I don’t know if there is anyone better when it comes to holding onto it,” Crosby said. “The way that he can just beat you 1-on-1, beat you with his speed, hold onto it. You watch him out there against the best, I don’t see anyone that really beats him in that category.

Outside of an All-Star Game environment, Eberle and Lee have meshed well on a line with Barzal, after the pair spent part of the season with Brock Nelson in the middle. Trotz reunited the line last month, and Eberle or Lee have become accustomed to playing with the dynamic Barzal.

“There’s definitely a difference between playing with him than there is playing with Brock [Nelson],” Eberle said. “But I played with Barzy all last season, we had a ton of success, and I know how to play with him. I think we play similar games and we think the game similar, that it makes it easy for us. A lot of times he’s doing things that I would be doing and thinking about doing and he’s feeling the same way about my game. It’s just easy to read off each other when you’re on the same wavelength.”

“Thankfully, I think our chemistry’s kind of hit pretty quickly,” Lee said. “Ever since we got put together, Ebs and I and Barzy have done pretty well. The adjustment wasn’t really much at all. He’s so dynamic in the way he creates space for not only himself, but for others, the way he carries the puck up the ice, and sees the ice. It’s really important to feed off each other and make quick plays because he can make those. … He knows when I’m down low, I know when he’s up top, using each other’s strengths has been good for us.”

The scary thing for the other 30 NHL teams and an encouraging sign for the Islanders is that Barzal is still improving. In his first season working day to day with him, Trotz has noticed how responsive his young forward is to being taught, and he possesses the desire to reach the elite level that Crosby achieved years ago.

“He’s maturing all the time, and you want players to mature as players, but as importantly you want them to mature as good pros,” Trotz said. “He’s surrounded by some great people, and he’s learning from great people. There’s some things you want to get out of his ‘junior game’ so he can be more effective at the NHL level.

“He listens and is very coachable. He’s just like all good players, there’s a stubbornness to their game because they’ve had success and sometimes it’s hard to get away from. He wants to be one of the top players in the National Hockey League and hopefully if he stays on the right path as he has he’ll continue to grow and you’ll see him be a player that [he’s capable of being].”

Two years into his professional career, nothing has surprised Barzal’s teammates about their young star. They know he’s going to create scoring chances. They know his speed will turn a mundane situation into a quick attack transition. They know when the moment is big, there will be no nerves getting in his way, as we saw Wednesday night. They know that irrational decisions with the puck is not part of his hockey makeup.

“It’s what made him good at every level he’s played at,” said Hickey. “If you lose that poise, that ability to really show no fear with it, then you take away his biggest asset. That’s what’s got him here. A lot of guys lose a bit of that their first couple of years pro. Thankfully he didn’t lose that because he wouldn’t be the same player.”

MORE: Isles’ Josh Bailey finds redemption in Game 1 vs. Penguins

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.