NEW YORK (AP) – Despite a disappointing overtime loss in their last game, the New York Islanders were pleased with their improved play.
Now, after falling behind in their second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders know they’ll have to keep it up to have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
“It was our best game so far,” center Frans Nielsen said. “Just have to come out and try to be even better next game.”
After a bad loss in Game 2 in Tampa, the Islanders came out with the increased aggressive play coach Jack Capuano was looking for back in front of the raucous home crowd in Brooklyn. New York was 39 seconds from taking a 2-1 series lead, but the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov gave the seesaw game its fourth tie, and then Brian Boyle won it less than three minutes into the extra period.
That gave the Lightning the series lead with Game 4 on Friday night back at Barclays Center before shifting to Tampa for Game 5 on Sunday.
Capuano said the players need to forget the loss and just focus on the things they did well.
“It’s a short memory,” Capuano said. “It was probably one of the best games we played all year so there’s a lot of positives you can take. We finally got our D activating more than we want in the offense. … Hopefully, we can build on some of those things. That was Islander hockey, we played to our identity. And that’s the way that we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have success in this series.”
One of the things they did better was get more shots on goal, finishing with 39 in Game 3 after totaling 42 in the first two games.
The Islanders also were more physical with 44 hits, compared to 34 for the Lightning. Those included several punishing jolts, including the two that gained national attention. The first by New York’s Thomas Hickey on Jonathan Drouin, who was knocked out of the game in the second period before returning in the third and assisting on the tying score in the final minute of regulation.
The other was by Boyle on Hickey in the OT just before Boyle went down the ice and scored.
Capuano believed Boyle’s hit was too high and thought he could be suspended a game by the NHL. However, the defenseman was not sanctioned and the Lightning expect the physical play to continue. Tampa Bay, which reached the Stanley Cup Final last year, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“This series has so much more, so long to go,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Everybody that’s watching this series is looking forward to Game 4.”
Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman added: “We’re going to have to play at the same level the next game on Friday. It’s going to be a tough game again so we have to be ready.”
The Islanders are trailing in a series for the first time this postseason. They alternated wins with Florida in the first five games of the first round before closing it out in Game 6 at home for their first playoff series win in 23 years. Then, they won the opener against the Lightning, but have lost two straight since.
“We just got to keep pushing,” said forward Josh Bailey, who scored twice in Game 3. “I think we’ll tweak some things, refocus. … The next game is the most important now and our focus won’t change.”
New York needs a win to avoid going back to Tampa in a 3-1 hole.
“It’s for sure a must-win for us, it feels like now,” Nielsen said. “We just got to come out and play the way we did (Tuesday) and give ourselves a chance to win.”