That was a frustrating loss.
Frustrating in the sense that Thomas Hickey, who had been an aggressive force throughout the game, took a high hit from Brian Boyle in overtime, setting off a sequence that led to Boyle’s winner, giving the Lightning a 5-4 win in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead over the Islanders.
“That was a direct shot to the head,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “Those are the type of hits we’re trying to eliminate from our game. It’s just too bad that it had to end that way.”
What was further frustrating was the fact that the Islanders had a 4-3 lead with under a minute to go in the third period, before Nikita Kucherov tied it up with 38.4 seconds to play.
“It’s a tough one to swallow considering the circumstances,” John Tavares said. “It is what it is. We obviously have to overcome it, some adversity. Nothing is ever perfect in the playoffs.”
The final 3:46 aside, Game 3 was one of the Islanders' best games of the postseason, as well as one of the most exciting. It offered a lot of everything, nine combined goals – including a pair from Josh Bailey in his return to the lineup – four lead changes and a lot of bumps and bruises as the teams combined for 78 hits.
But in what was a tug-of-war affair with both teams pulling back and forth on the game, the Islanders couldn’t help but feel like one of their best efforts was pulled out from under them.
“I think it was our best game so far,” said Frans Nielsen, sporting some swelling and a cut under his right eye. “We have to come out and try to be even better next game, but it’s frustrating right now.”
The Islanders wanted to make some corrections after Game 2, namely putting more shots on goal. They followed through on their vow, putting 39 shots on goal, including 17 in the first period. The will to shoot, had the Islanders up 7:55 in, as Bailey knocked in a Nikolay Kulemin rebound past Ben Bishop (35 saves).
It should have stayed 1-0 through the first period, but the Lightning eked out a tie in the waning seconds, with Ryan Callahan tipping an Alex Killorn shot past Thomas Greiss (36 saves) with 12.5 seconds to play.
In a preview of what was to come, the Islanders' initial lead – 11:53 – was the longest that either team was able to play with an advantage.
Victor Hedman made it 2-1 with a point shot at 8:10 of the second period, with Nick Leddy tying it up 6:40 later, putting a point shot of his own through traffic and ultimately Ben Bishop. Bailey gave his team a 3-2 lead with a power-play goal at 2:27 of the third period – this time finishing a feed from Hickey – but that lead was the shortest of all, lasting only 58 seconds before Vladislav Namestnikov tied it 3-3.
Cal Clutterbuck eventually gave the Islanders the lead with 11:23, as a Jason Garrison clearing attempt caromed off Casey Cizikas’ skate and out to the open sniper, who unholstered his lethal wrist shot and beat Bishop cleanly up high. (The goal came in and out of the net so quickly that Clutterbuck continued to make a play at the rebound before the red light went off.)
But that was as close as the Islanders came. Kucherov found some space in the slot and Jonathan Drouin – who was knocked out of the game for a period by a hit from Hickey – found him with a pass for the tying one-timer.
“We had a chance to close it out and we didn’t,” Bailey said. “Now it’s about how you respond.”
For the first time in four trips to overtime in the 2016 playoffs, the Islanders did not come out the victor. After Boyle’s hit on Hickey – which negated a clearing attempt – Hedman’s shot kicked off the end boards to Boyle at the side of the net. With Greiss trying to get across, Boyle tucked it home, a disappointing end for the sold out crowd at Barclays Center.
“I thought our guys played one of the best games we played all year,” Capuano said. “We really played a hard game, our guys should be proud of the effort. It’s just tough the way that it ended.”
Game 4 goes on Friday night at Barclays Center. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.
TAVARES: ISLANDERS GAVE KUCHEROV TOO MUCH ROOM ON TYING GOAL (5/3)
BOYCHUK: ISLANDERS HAVE TO PUT GAME 3 LOSS IN THE PAST (5/3)
CIZIKAS: ISLANDERS HAVE TO LEARN FROM GAME 3 LOSS (5/3)
GREISS: ISLANDERS HAVE TO TIGHTEN D IN GAME 4 (5/3)
CAPUANO AFTER ISLANDERS LOSS(5/3)