As fast as Semyon Varlamov darted up the ice late Tuesday night, all that goalie equipment made it impossible for the New York Islanders netminder to join the celebration as quickly as he wanted.
So at center ice, Varlamov channeled his inner Pete Rose — or maybe his inner teenager atop a snowy hill — by diving, extending his arms and sliding into the gaggle of teammates mobbing one another along the boards.
The celebratory moment of the NHL’s postseason means the Islanders still have a chance to complete the comeback of the postseason.
Down 3-2, the Islanders will look to push the Eastern Conference finals to the limit Thursday night when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 in Edmonton.
The Islanders staved off elimination in dramatic fashion in Game 5, when Jordan Eberle scored with 7:30 left in the second overtime to lift New York to a 2-1 win.
“I was just so excited for us,” a grinning 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 in that moment. I was just so happy for the guys and so happy for us. We extended the series and we have a chance to continue to play.”
Eberle’s tie-breaking goal capped a game that embodied the grind of playoff hockey and the task of closing out a series. The two teams combined for 61 shots, including just 20 in the 32-plus minutes of overtime, and went 68:30 without a goal before Eberle’s game-winner.
The Islanders dodged disaster at least twice in the extra sessions, first by killing off Anthony Beauvillier’s four-minute penalty that began late in regulation and then during a minute-plus span deep in their own zone in the first overtime after Scott Mayfield’s stick broke. New York blocked three shots during the subsequent flurry by the Lightning — including one by Anders Lee, who handed his stick to Mayfield.
“The boys battled hard tonight,” Eberle said. “We had some moments in the D zone, especially in overtime where we had a broken stick, collapsed and just held on. To score that, continue to move on and give ourselves another chance in a couple days is huge.”
The Lightning, who lost in overtime for the first time in five tries in the postseason, nearly punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Dallas Stars twice more. Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock smothered a puck near the crease in the waning seconds of the first overtime and Nikita Kucherov fired wide of the open corner of the net fewer than four minutes into the second overtime.
“Winning and losing, it’s razor thin in this league,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday night. “I just watched that team over there lose three (overtime games) in a row to Philly (in the conference semifinals). At some point, they’re probably bound to win one and we’re probably bound to lose one.”
The Lightning may once again be without center Brayden Point, who missed his second game of the series with an undisclosed injury. Cooper said Wednesday he didn’t know if Point, who was hurt in Game 2 and returned for Game 4, would be available Thursday.