But Nikita Kucherov silenced the Barclays Center with his late game-tying goal 39 seconds from the final bell.
And Brian Boyle sent Isles fans home cursing and stomping mad after delivering the game-winning goal 2:48 into overtime, seconds after delivering a disputed hit to the Islanders’ Thomas Hickey.
Tampa Bay’s 5-4 victory in Game 3 over the Islanders was one of the more dramatic playoff contests of the season. The game featured hard hits, controversy, four lead changes, four ties, great saves, even greater goals and a pair of teams leaving everything out on the ice.
“I think if you watched tonight, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining hockey game,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said in his post-game press conference.
Just think if the series continues in this fashion.
Not sure Lightning fans (or Lightning beat writers) can take many more twists and turns like we saw last night.
But no chance anyone’s turning away now.
3 Things from one of the guttiest wins in Lightning playoff history ahead
1. WEATHERING THE STORM
The Tampa Bay Lightning were thoroughly outplayed in the first period of Game 3.
The Islanders outshot the Lightning 17-9. Of those 17 shots, the number of high-quality scoring chances approached double digits. It seemed every time the puck was dumped in the zone, it resulted in an Islander getting setup in front of Ben Bishop’s net for a wide-open look.
The fact Bishop only let in one goal in the opening period was a minor miracle.
The fact the Lightning exited the first tied 1-1 was truly remarkable.
In truth, the Bolts should have been down a goal and probably two. In a game that featured so much offensive firepower and back-and-forth scoring, the job Bishop did limiting the Islanders to four goals for the game and one in that opening period will probably get lost.
But Bishop again put forth a superlative effort in a pressure-packed situation for Tampa Bay.
“We’ve had some pretty strong periods in this series so far,” Cooper said. “Well that was one we were on our heels for a good portion of it, and giving up, it wasn’t just Grade-B chances, they were Grade-A chances. You need your guy to be there for you…The goalie doesn’t have to win you every game, he just can’t lose you the game. Every game’s not going to be 1-0, 2-0, sometimes they’re going to be 5-4. You’ve just got to make sure you’re the one that gave up four, and that’s what he did and he found a way to win that hockey game for us.”
The Lightning had nothing clicking offensively in the first but were given a lifeline late in the period when Casey Cizikas was whistled for tripping Brian Boyle at center ice. On the resulting power play, Alex Killorn ripped a shot from just beyond the left circle. Ryan Callahan was working hard in front for positioning and was able to get his blade on the shot to redirect it past New York goalie Thomas Greiss.
The Lightning had no business being tied going into the first break. Callahan’s goal was a huge dagger into the psyche of the Islanders, who had to have felt major disappointed not to have the lead after dominating the period.
“(New York) had some pretty darn good chances in that first period, so to come out of there 1-1 was big for us,” Cooper said. “We know there was going to be a push, first game [at home] of the Second Round for them.”
The first period of Game 3 had every chance to replicate the first period of Game 1 in the series, when the Islanders held a 3-1 advantage and the Bolts couldn’t quite make up the deficit over the final 40.
Bishop’s brilliance and Cally’s tally made sure it didn’t.
2. BOLTS RESILIENCY ON FULL DISPLAY
Tampa Bay had plenty of chances to fold in Game 3. The Lightning went down by a goal three separate times and trailed with less than a minute to go in regulation.
But the Bolts have learned through the countless playoff wars they’ve gone through over the past couple of seasons that they’re never out of the game.
And that belief was front and center throughout Game 3.
The Lightning went down 3-2 early in the third period on Josh Bailey’s power-play goal but answered almost immediately with Valtteri Filppula slipped a puck into the slot for Vladislav Namestnikov, who scored his first career playoff goal 58 seconds after the Islanders took the lead. The Barclays Center PA announcer hadn’t even finished reading the summary of Bailey’s goal to the crowd before Namestnikov tied it up.
“Let’s not underscore Namestnikov’s goal because that’s the go-ahead goal in the third, and we answered in less than a minute,” Cooper said. “It kind of calmed everything down for us. We got the tough turnover and that puts them up but kind of the staple of how this team has kind of come together in the last couple of years, especially at playoff time. It’s amazing when you’ve been in that situation before how there’s just a quiet calm over the team.”
Cal Clutterbuck put the Islanders back in front midway through the third following an unfortunate deflection in the Bolts’ end that gave him a wide-open look on net from the slot. New York clamped down on the Lightning attack after regaining the lead and limited not only the amount of chances the Bolts’ had over the second half of the third period but made it difficult for the Bolts to even keep the puck in the offensive zone.
Still, the Lightning never panicked. When Ben Bishop emptied the Tampa Bay net with a little more than two minutes to go, the Lightning remained poised and were rewarded when Jonathan Drouin, back in the game following a vicious hit earlier in the second period, delivered a pass into the slot for Nikita Kucherov, the NHL’s leading goal scorer this postseason.
Kucherov’s shot easily beat Greiss, and the Lightning had somehow found a way to stave off defeat.
“I don’t think there was one person on that bench that didn’t think we were going to overtime,” Cooper said.
Once Tampa Bay got the game into the extra frame, there probably wasn’t one Lightning fan who didn’t think the Bolts would come through.
We’ve just come to expect it from this team.
3. DROUIN’S RETURN FROM HIT UNDERSCORES HIS TOUGHNESS
Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin has always possessed an offensive skill set that has made him one of the most intriguing players the Bolts have ever drafted. But, at times last season and early in 2015-16, his willingness to work on the defensive end as well as his toughness were questioned.
Since returning to Tampa Bay near the end of the regular season, however, Drouin has displayed a physical side to his game unseen beforehand.
And In Game 3, we all got a glimpse just how tough Jonathan Drouin has become.
Drouin was blindsided by the Islanders’ Thomas Hickey as he entered the zone, the second-year forward turning directly into the path of Hickey, who obliterated Drouin with a bone-crushing hit, a hit Drouin said was clean following the game.
Drouin went to the locker room, and the prevailing thought was his day was finished and he might even be out for an extended time.
“It was just precautionary stuff (going to the locker room),” Drouin said. “I wanted to make sure I was fine. I felt fine. The doctors wanted to make sure I was 100 percent.”
When the third period began, Drouin was surprisingly back on the bench, and after being inserted into the game slowly by Cooper, he made his mark late, delivering the primary assist on the game-tying goal with 39 seconds left, his deft passing skills able to deliver the puck through a mass of bodies into the slot for Kucherov.
“He went through every test possible,” Cooper said. “Even after all the tests, we were, ‘Do them again.’ Just to make sure. He passed everything, and he came back. I asked him, ‘How are you feeling?’ He goes, ‘I can play. I wouldn’t come out here if I didn’t feel like I could play.’… As I said, it’s pretty cool he was the guy who set up the game-winner.”
Drouin has seven assists this postseason, tied with Tyler Johnson for most on the Lightning and tied for third most in the league.
“Just what happened tonight, I think just spells how his character and what he’s about,” Cooper said. “The story’s not over. I think we’re just writing the first couple of chapters. This guy I think is going to write one heck of a hockey story for himself.”