NEW YORK -- Thomas Hickey isn't paid to score goals. He's not here to dazzle, to make the kind of play that gets the fans out of their seats, or to consistently set aside the first few minutes after each home game to take one last twirl as First Star.
But the New York Islanders defenseman continues to have a flair for the dramatic, to score when it truly matters most.
Less than two weeks after his overtime goal clinched the Islanders a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Hickey became the first player to score an overtime postseason goal at Barclays Center when he found open space in the slot, screamed at Brock Nelson to feed him the puck, and ripped it past goalie Roberto Luongo at 12:31 to give the Islanders a 4-3 victory against the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
The win gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead in this best-of-7 series. Game 4 will be played in Brooklyn on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, SUN).
Much like so many other Islanders playoff wins, this one didn't come easily. They fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 before Shane Prince and Frans Nielsen scored in the latter portion of the second period to get New York even.
After a scoreless third period, Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk told Hickey one of them would score the overtime goal.
"It had to be a [defenseman]," Boychuk said. "The D always score the big goals."
Hickey certainly does, including his overtime winner at Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals 12 nights earlier that sent New York to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Hickey has scored four of his 13 career NHL regular-season goals in overtime. On Sunday, he scored his first career NHL playoff goal to get the Islanders halfway to the second round for the first time in 23 years.
"You shoot so many pucks in a season," Hickey said. "Sometimes they don't go in when they should, sometimes you have some good luck and something will happen. There's something about it. Just jumping in, anything can happen in overtime. There's no such thing as a bad shot. I've been fortunate to get two great passes."
Nelson made a great pass from behind the Panthers net for Hickey, who read the play and yelled so loudly to Nelson that Boychuk claimed you could hear him back at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the building the Islanders said goodbye to last spring after 43 years and four Stanley Cup championships.
"I sound like a little girl sometimes," Hickey said when told what Boychuk said.
Sunday was the perfect way for Barclays Center to welcome playoff hockey for the Islanders, a franchise that has been known for its postseason overtime goals, from J-P Parise's against the New York Rangers in 1975, to Bobby Nystrom's Cup-clincher against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1980 to David Volek's against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993, which was the last time the Islanders have been smiling during the traditional playoff handshakes.
Fans began arriving at 5 p.m. ET for a party on the plaza just outside the arena that featured guests such as Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, two Hockey Hall of Fame forwards who helped the Islanders win 19 consecutive playoff series from 1980-83. The capacity crowd of 15,795 made the kind of noise that brought back memories of that old building roughly 30 miles to the east, and the ones in attendance old enough to remember that remarkable run were celebrating like the good old days when Hickey buried Nelson's feed.
"I thought it was incredible," Hickey said. "The fans, just right from the start, that was an extra boost. I had goose bumps after the anthem. We fed off that. It was great seeing the orange. They brought it today, so good for them. They stuck with us. It would have been easy to get discouraged, but they were right there until the end."
That should be the case again Wednesday, when the Islanders will try to take a 3-1 series lead on home ice before heading back to Florida for Game 5 on Friday. Without Hickey's latest heroics, with the way the Panthers' top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr was buzzing in Game 3 like it has throughout this series, the Islanders could have needed a win Wednesday just to avoid having their season placed on life support.
For coach Jack Capuano, to see Hickey score another clutch goal, it was a reward for all the work the third-pair defenseman does that often goes unnoticed.
"There's not a guy on our team that plays as big as Thomas Hickey," Capuano said. "When you talk about toughness, and I've always defined it as taking a hit to make a play, and that's what he does. He puts himself in situations where he's either going to give a hit or take a hit, but he's going to make that play. He's probably one of the few guys on our team like that, and our guys know that. It's always good to see a guy like that get rewarded."