Barry Trotz memorably told a reporter that he could “play fantasy hockey” all he wants when the Islanders head coach fielded questions about why Kyle Palmieri wasn’t skating on the top line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
But Trotz changed his tune Saturday night after the Islanders’ pulled out a 3-2 win over the Lightning to even the Stanley Cup semifinal series at two wins apiece, in a game where the 58-year-old shuffled his top line early to feature the aforementioned trio.
“It’s something I’ve been contemplating each game,” Trotz said. “They’re going to be low-scoring games. I don’t think we can get into a track meet with this team. The [Lightning] finish so well. I had last change, I felt there was more cadence in this game. I felt that would be an easier switch for me. We’ll see what we do next game.”
After swapping Leo Komarov with Palmieri for much of the first two periods, the first line had some good zone time against the Lightning. According to Natural Stat Trick, Palmieri, Barzal and Eberle created three scoring chances in 7:31 of ice time together. Trotz made the adjustment once the Lightning began to swarm in the Isles’ zone early in the first period.
Considering Barzal and Palmieri have combined for two goals this postseason when playing on the same line, in situations where Komarov needed a breather after being on the penalty kill, Trotz has been heavily pressed on why he won’t make the switch a permanent one. But Trotz likes to keep his lines balanced, and the Palmieri-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Travis Zajac group has been successful during this playoff run — particularly against the Lightning.
When an offensive spark was needed, however, the top line was the first one to get shuffled.
After turning aside 28 of the 30 shots he faced in Game 4, Isles goalie Semyon Varlamov earned his 17th playoff win, which matched Glenn Resch for second place on the franchise’s all-time list.
“Varly I thought, when it was 3-2, a little earlier when they had their surge, he had to come up with one huge save on [Nikita] Kucherov coming down the backside,” Trotz said. “He came off the bench, and they found him. I thought Varly made a huge save there.”
The Islanders improved to 5-3 on home ice this postseason and are 13-9 at home over the past three postseasons under Trotz. The Golden Knights are the only other team with more playoff wins at home, with 15.
With a goal in Game 4 Saturday, the Lightning’s Brayden Point extended his goal streak to seven games, which marks the longest by a player in the Stanley Cup playoffs since Claude Lemieux had a run of equal length over 24 years ago.