UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Josh Bailey could have left Nassau Coliseum Wednesday night ready to relive a Game 1 nightmare as he slept.
A little over a minute after Justin Schultz tied the game at three late in the third period, Bailey had a golden opportunity with seconds remaining to be the hero for the New York Islanders’ in their Stanley Cup playoff series opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But then he heard the worst sound in hockey.
“It just happened so quick. It didn’t lay very flat with me, I was just trying to whack it and hope it went in,” Bailey said afterward.
Bailey, who had only two goals in his previous 20 games entering Wednesday, could have pleaded to the hockey gods and asked what he did to earn such tough luck. Instead, he shook it off and pounced on a rebound after Mathew Barzal hit the post in overtime to give the Islanders a 4-3 win in Game 1.
“I saw the puck just laying there and I was pissed, I obviously thought the chance had ended and see Bails come in and swoop in,” Barzal said. “[I] was just super happy to see that. Awesome for him.”
“You can’t get down on yourself in those situations, as hard as it is,” said Bailey. “Sometimes you want it so bad when it happens, you’ve got to find a way to turn the page. I think that’s just gotten easier over time.”
The Islanders have found a way to battle through adversity put in their way this season. Overcoming those challenges when times get tough begins with an experienced, Stanley Cup winning coach behind the bench. Barry Trotz had plenty of downs in his NHL coaching career before winning a title with the Washington Capitals last season. Coming to Long Island, he was joining a team that had missed the playoffs again and lost their franchise player. But he helped the franchise turn the page to a new chapter, one that surprised the hockey world with a 103-point season.
The challenges put in the Islanders’ way in Game 1 were answered each and every time.
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Seven minutes after Phil Kessel quickly evened the score at one in the first period, Brock Nelson beat Matt Murray on the power play to regain the lead. Nick Leddy answered Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal to tie the game at two midway through the third period. Then it was Bailey earning redemption with his overtime heroics after Schultz’s forced the extra period with 1:29 left in regulation.
(You can also add Tom Kuhnhackl’s goal 33 seconds into the game being called back due to offside, and then a second-period opportunity that was deemed to be no goal by the officials after a review to the list of setbacks the Islanders faced in Game 1.)
“That’s just hockey sometimes, especially in the playoffs you’re going to experience those things. It’s all about how you respond,” said Bailey.
Now the Islanders head into Friday’s Game 2 with a chance to take a firm grasp of the series. They proved on Wednesday that they can handle the spotlight of playoff hockey and the momentum roller coaster that comes with it.
“There was a lot of twists and turns in that game,” said Trotz. “They just stayed with it. I like that our group, they didn’t flinch at all which is good. Close games we’ve learned to be comfortable, and there’s going to be close games in the playoffs.”
Islanders-Penguins Game 2 from Nassau Coliseum will be Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.