NEW YORK — Not one player dropped the gloves between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning, but man, there were plenty of sore bodies after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference second-round series Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Even before the opening faceoff, the Islanders’ Travis Hamonic and the Lightning’s Brian Boyle collided at center ice during warmups and started to chirp. The hostility only intensified during the game, which ended with Boyle scoring the winning goal at 2:48 of overtime to lead Tampa Bay to a 5-4 victory to take a 2-1 series lead. In total, the teams registered 78 hits, with most of them hard-nosed collisions.
It even turned into a public tongue-lashing by Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who was livid about a late hit by Boyle on Islanders’ defenseman Thomas Hickey just before the game-winning goal. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper responded nonchalantly afterward, calling the entire game filled with thunderous hits.
“You cannot walk away from that game thinking that was one hell of a hockey game,” Cooper said.
In the waning seconds of regulation, it appeared the Islanders would come away with a victory. Instead, Cooper pulled goalie Ben Bishop for the extra attacker and the Lightning tied it at 4-4 with 38.4 seconds remaining in regulation on Nikita Kucherov‘s seventh goal of the playoffs.
“We like to think we never quit and that has a lot to do with experience in our squad, and we learned a lot of that last year,” said Lightning forward Tyler Johnson. “It’s never over until it’s over. They played a heck of a game and it was a battle all night. We’re lucky we were able to get that last goal to be able to win it because it could have gone either way.”
“If you watched tonight, you would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining hockey game,” Cooper said. “It had everything. It had goals. It had saves. It had hits. It had overtime. It had all the drama. Goalie pulled. Goal scored. And that’s why we all stand around here and love this game because it’s a ton of fun to be a part of this. This series has so much more, so long to go, and everyone watching this series is looking forward to Game 4.”
In the Islanders’ locker room, it had to be somewhat deflating that they played as well as they did but still lost in the fashion they did.
“We had a breakdown at the end, but I think everybody’s got their money’s worth,” Capuano said. “It’s just too bad it had to end the way it did.
“I just thought our guys played one of the best games that we played all year, especially after we played a measured game in Game 2. We came out tonight and we really played a hard game. Our guys should be proud of the effort — it’s just tough the way that it ended.”
The Islanders wanted to control the tempo and pressure Bishop relentlessly. New York was able to accomplish that game plan but didn’t have the end resulted it wanted. Losing a game in that fashion has to affect a team moving forward.
“This is where mental toughness comes in and how strong are you mentally to come back,” Capuano said. “Our guys know it takes four to win — we’ve just got to come back and play with the same effort. If we do that, I don’t worry about the scoreboard, I just worry about preparing our guys and making sure that they battle and they have the will to compete, and that’s all you can ask from your guys. I thought, from top to bottom, we competed hard tonight.”
If the first three games of this series is any indication, it should go the distance. It’s already been an entertaining series and no doubt it’s only going to become more physical as these teams continue to battle.
“The margin of error is razor thin right now,” Boyle said.