Throughout this season, the New York Islanders have lost third-period leads and failed to earn two points in games where they felt they deserved better. Last night's 5-4 OT win against the Carolina Hurricanes wasn't one of those games, and yet, could serve as a way of turning around the tendencies and trends that have hindered them all year.
There was a huge sense of relief when Mathew Barzal scored 2:46 into overtime to give the Islanders their first OT win of the season and, more importantly, avoid a sickening, what can go wrong will go wrong vibe around the team as they head to Florida to play the Panthers on Saturday night.
Fans expected the worse, and maybe the team did, too. It was a pleasant surprise.
“You’re leading 4-3 and you give up a goal like that and you don’t want to lose the game,” goaltender Semyon Varlamov said. “You lose the game and everybody’s miserable, right? We wanted to make sure we got a ‘W.’ It’s a great feeling."
The Islanders were outshot 43-16 and, by all accounts, had no business trying to protect the lead in the third period. Yet, there they were, leading 4-3 in the waning seconds after Kyle Palmieri's power-play goal regained the one-goal advantage they had heading into the final 20 minutes.
Disaster struck when forever nemesis Sebastian Aho stuffed a goal underneath Varlamov to tie the game with just 2.5 seconds left. The way overtimes have gone this season, including an earlier OT loss to Carolina at UBS Arena, it felt certain that this game would have a similar fate, but Mathew Barzal capped off a four-point night with the fourth OT winner of his career.
“Obviously feels nice, not even so much for me, just for our group. Kind of got the monkey off our back,” said Barzal. “It's been a few games now where we've had the lead and weren't able to finish it off. So nice to get the monkey off the back for sure as a group.”
It doesn't make logical sense that the Barzal goal would have an impact on the way the team plays in third periods, but you can't underestimate the mental aspects of the game and how a win like last night plays into the psyche of the group the next time they find themselves in a similar situation.