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Experienced Lightning never felt out of it

Get tying goal late in Game 3 against Islanders, win in OT to grab 2-1 series lead

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

NEW YORK -- It started in warmups, when New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic bumped Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle at the red line and the two had words. It escalated in the second period, when Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey crushed Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin with a hard, clean check that sent him flying onto his back and gliding to the dressing room.

This was Brooklyn. This was the first second-round Stanley Cup Playoff game the Islanders had hosted since 1993. And with the fans roaring, the Islanders were going to re-establish their gritty identity, throwing hits, generating traffic, getting pucks to the net, showing how tough they could be to play against.

But guess what? Grit and toughness are part of the Lightning's identity too, and so is experience after their run to the Stanley Cup Final last year. Think they were going to be intimidated or rattled or discouraged at Barclays Center after what they had seen at Joe Louis Arena, Bell Centre, Madison Square Garden and United Center a year ago? Think they were going to back down?

The Lightning didn't just win 5-4 in overtime Tuesday and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series. They took the Islanders' best shot and one-upped it, coming back after trailing 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3, finding a way to win.

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Boyle beats Greiss to win it in OT

It was Drouin, the one Hickey crushed, who returned in the third period and set up the tying goal with 38.4 seconds left in regulation. It was Boyle, the one Hamonic bumped, who hit Hickey in overtime -- infuriating Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who felt Boyle deserved a penalty and suspension -- and scored the winning goal at 2:48.

"We like to think we never quit, and I think that has a lot to do with the experience on our squad," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "I think we learned a lot of that last year. It's never over until it's over. They played a heck of a game. It was a battle all night. We were lucky we were able to get that last goal to be able to win it. It could have gone either way."

Little more than a year ago, experience was a big question mark with Tampa Bay. The Lightning had been swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 playoffs. What did they know about winning? How would they handle adversity?

Then they found themselves down 2-1 in their 2015 first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings and trailing 2-0 in the third period of Game 4 on the road. Johnson and Ondrej Palat scored to send it to overtime, and Johnson won it in OT. They lost 4-0 at home in Game 5 and trailed 3-2 in the series. But they won the next two games and the series in seven.

Along the way, coach Jon Cooper, an Oakland Raiders fan, stole the old Al Davis line: "Just win, baby." They had it put on T-shirts and used it as a rallying cry. When the Canadiens cut their 3-0 series lead to 3-2 in the second round, they just won, baby, and ended it in six. When the New York Rangers defeated them 7-3 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, they just won Game 7, baby. 

They couldn't overcome the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, but they learned from it and gained confidence from it.

Experience isn't everything. Obviously, the Lightning didn't need it to make their run last year. But when you have it, it sure can help.

"It's amazing when you've been in that situation before how there's just a quiet calm over the team," Cooper said. "I don't think there was one person on our bench that didn't think we were going to overtime. Fortunately for us, we pulled it out."

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Kucherov beats Greiss to tie the game

Boyle seemed unperturbed by Hamonic's bump in warmups. He turned around, skated over to Hamonic and stared down at him -- at 6-foot-7, standing 5 inches taller. The Lightning were outshot in the first period 17-9, but they got the tying goal on the power play with 12.5 seconds left. Of course, it was a dirty-area goal, a deflection in front by Ryan Callahan.

Hickey's hit on Drouin had the fans chanting his name and left the Lightning with 10 forwards while Drouin was absent, taking concussion protocol tests in a quiet area somewhere under the stands. But the Lightning stuck with it, and Drouin passed his tests and returned in the third period.

After Josh Bailey gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead in the third, Vladislav Namestnikov responded less than a minute later. After Cal Clutterbuck gave the Islanders a 4-3 lead later in the period, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop kept Bailey from extending it by making a sharp glove save.

In the dying moments of regulation, Cooper pulled Bishop, and Drouin sent a sweet pass from left to right into the slot for Nikita Kucherov, who buried the tying goal. And finally in OT, a puck bounced off the end boards and hit Boyle's right skate at the right side of the net. He calmly collected it, backhand, forehand, and put it in.

"Resilient," Boyle said. "I think that was a big word after the win. We win on a bounce, a good bounce for us.
It could go either way, especially in OT like that. We still had to have some big saves from [Bishop]. The series is a long way from over."

It's a long way from over, for sure. But, man, if you're the Islanders, you're going to have to work even longer and harder to defeat the Lightning now.

"We believe in ourselves," Boyle said. "We're never out of it."

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