The New York Islanders got everything they needed to in Game 3. Solid goaltending? Check. Secondary scoring? Check. Energy from the fourth line? Check Check Check. And yet, perhaps a sign that even at full strength the Islanders are not on the same level as the Tampa Bay Lightning, they lost the game. The Lightning tied the game late on a goal from Nikita Kucherov before sealing the deal with an overtime goal from Brian Boyle. With an air of controversy around the final goal, the Islanders find themselves down 2-1 in the series and looking for something positive to take out of last night.
The Islanders started strong, scoring first for only the second time these playoffs. Josh Bailey, making his return from injury (and mediocre play) scored on a nice play in front of the goal to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead. The goal was Bailey’s first in 22 games. Shortly thereafter, on an unfortunate penalty called against Casey Cizikas, Tampa Bay tied the game at 1 after Ryan Callahan tipped home an Alex Killorn shot from the point with only 13 seconds left in the period.
In perhaps the most evenly played and best game of the series, the teams exchanged goals in the second period. Before any of the scoring, the first questionable hit of the game was delivered by Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey on the Lightnings’ phenom-turned disappointment-turned phenom again Jonathan Drouin. As Drouin entered the zone and attempted to cut inside, Hickey stepped into him, shoulder down but certainly making forceful contact to Drouin’s head. Drouin left the ice under his own power but did not return until the final minutes of the third period. The Islanders looked to gain momentum from the hit as they did in Game 1 following Cizikas’ hit on Erik Condra but it was Tampa Bay who took the 2-1 lead on a Victor Hedman shot from the point. The Islanders fourth line would again be involved, following a strong forecheck by setting up Nick Leddy from the point to even the score.
Again the teams exchanged goals in the third. Josh Bailey scored his second of the game on a power play just 2 minutes into the frame. However, a little over a minute later Vladislav Namestnikov scored his first of the playoffs. Then it seemed as if the Islanders had taken the lead for good when Cal Clutterbuck tallied the 4th point of the night for the 4th line, rifling a shot high glove side from the slot on Ben Bishop. But it was the Lightning who got the last laugh as Kucherov put home the tying goal with 39 seconds left on the clock after the Islanders were unable to clear their zone with the extra attacker on.
It didn’t take long in the extra frame for the Lightning to net the winner as Boyle scored just 2:48 in. The controversy stems from a hit earlier in the shift where it appeared that Boyle caught Thomas Hickey up high with an elbow, knocking Hickey out of the play as he struggled to get up. However, no penalty was called and Boyle ultimately found himself open on the back post to clean up the rebound on another point shot from Hedman. Following the game, Islanders coach Jack Capuano was furious with the no-call suggesting that Boyle should absolutely be suspended. As of Wednesday afternoon no hearing had been scheduled for Boyle and most replays are not definitive in showing fault.
The Islanders will have to forget about Game 3 quickly and hope that they can put forth the same effort with a better result on Friday. Captain John Tavares was again quiet, now going on 7+ periods without a point which will need to change if the Islanders hope to come back in the series. The good news for the Islanders is that defenseman Ryan Pulock could return and they can bring Ryan Strome back into the line up after being a healthy scratch. Hickey saw doctors on Wednesday and his status has not been clarified for Game 4.