NY Islanders' first line was better in Game 5, still need more

Apr 25, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates
Apr 25, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Islanders will live to see another day.

With their season on the line Tuesday, the Islanders went into Raleigh, North Carolina to take on the Hurricanes down three games to one in the series. They came out on the other side victorious and are sending the series back to Long Island, although the 'Canes still hold a 3-2 series lead. Ilya Sorkin was solid making 34 saves on 36 shots, and was perfect on the penalty kill. That's to be expected, however, as Sorokin has the ability to steal games when he's on. What the Islanders have needed is for their first line to be a lot better than they have been in this series, something head coach Lane Lambert made a note of prior to Game 5.

"It's not them individually, it's the (first) line itself," Lambert explained. "I think they've gotta be a little tighter, a little more connected, help each other out a little bit more."

Prior to Game 5, the trio of Bo Horvat, Anders Lee, and Mathew Barzal each had scored just one goal in the series, their only points through four games. Compared to the Hurricanes' first line that's now collected 11 points through five, the Islanders' first line needed to assert itself in the series, and that's exactly what happened on Tuesday.

The Islanders held a two-goal lead with just under two minutes left in the first period when Horvat forced a turnover in the neutral zone, Barzal picked up the puck, the duo created a 2-on-1 situation, and Barzal fired the puck past Antii Raanta to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead which became the eventual game-winning goal.

In Game 4, the Islanders' first line struggled to dictate play generating eight chances for while allowing eight chances against according to NaturalStatTrick, however, in Game 5 the trio of Horvat, Lee, and Barzal generated another eight chances for while only allowing three. When asked, Barzal explained he thought Lambert did well in Game 5 icing his line with the proper matchups, something the Hurricanes did well up to Tuesday night.

“They’ve been doing a good job with matchups so kind of relieved a little bit of that tension,” Barzal said.

Still, the Islanders first line only generated one shot each on goal in Tuesday's effort. Luckily, Barzal's found twine, and yes they out-chanced their opponents, however, the Islanders brought Horvat in to play with Barzal to give the Isles a legitimate offensive threat. Three shots between the trio of Horvat, Lee, and Barzal was enough in Game 5, but come Game 6 it wouldn't come as a surprise if it saw the Islanders fall short.

For now, the first line came through in Game 5, although they'll still need to improve their offensive efforts in order to see Game 7 and an attempt to upset the Hurricanes.