Thomas Hickey scored 12:31 into overtime to give the New York Islanders a 4-3 win in their first-ever playoff game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The goal to win Game 3 over the Florida Panthers gave the Isles a 2-1 series lead, and it came after a big two-goal comeback in the second period after the team was but a few millimeters (and a coach's challenge review for offside) of trailing 3-0.
In a playoff-story kind of turn, the goal also came with the Islanders' worst line of this series on the ice against the Panthers' most frightening line of overtime. This time, however, Brock Nelson (who set Hickey up with a pass from the corner), Josh Bailey (who won the puck in the corner to keep the forecheck alive, and Nikolay Kulemin (who carried the puck from the Isles zone and got it in deep before changing for Shane Prince) got the better of a shift against Jaromir Jagr (who missed Hickey on the winner), Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
It was one small anecdote in a series that will be full of them before it's all over. For now, the teams can rest after playing three games in four nights to open the series. Game 4 is Wednesday in the same venue.
First, let there be no doubt that Barclays Center can rock. Like, playoff-style rock. The building was loud, the cramped basketball dimensions fed the feeling of the crowd being on top of the rink, and all of the thunder we saw at Nassau Coliseum in last year's playoffs made its way to Brooklyn. The announced sellout attendance of 15,795 saw to that.
Hickey on atmosphere: "It was incredible...I love our fans. I didn’t know it was going to be that good." #isles— Laura Albanese (@AlbaneseLaura) April 18, 2016
The Game: Chapter 3
The game began as all three games in this series have begun, with an early Panthers goal to open scoring and put the Isles on their heels. It came from a familiar and haunting source, too: Reilly Smith, having an outstanding series, now even with luck on his side as his backhand from the doorstep skipped and fluttered over Thomas Greiss' otherwise well-placed and outstretched arms.
That one at 2:25 was all the scoring for the first period. But a curious penalty call late in the period had a spillover effect in the second. Matt Martin was sideswiped by two Panthers at center ice with no call, then proceeded to confront them in front of Roberto Luongo at the whistle. The playoff crew interpreted roughing on Martin for all of that, and the Isles killed off a minute on either side of the intermission.
But with Florida still pressing after the penalty expired, Aleksander Barkov jumped on a carom off the end boards to put the Panthers up 2-0.
A Turning Point: Offside Review Comes into Play
The game was about to become a disaster within minutes afterward when Aaron Ekblad whistled a perfect shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle into the top, far corner to apparently make it 3-0.
But lo and behold, we have coach's challenge for offside via video review! There's a flag on the play and everything you just watched might not count! Never mind that it was a centimeters play at the blueline before several more good plays by the Panthers in the zone -- and never mind that the rest of the game can be comically, subjectively called -- it's of critical importance they get this right down to the centimeter, and down to the tedious video review.
Barkov's skate went over the blueline -- and in a haze of snow that almost obscured the replay -- just before the puck did. Goal overturned. Rewind the clock. (I hate that they're reviewing these this way. But my Bossy did the Isles need that reversal.)
The crowd and the Isles sprang to life, drew a penalty, then another penalty. Pulock, who scored the Isles' first-ever (preseason) goal in this building, scored its (and his) first Isles playoff goal with a rocket one-timer on the 5-on-3.
But after the second penalty expired, the Isles fabled fourth line came on for it god-given duty. Pulock stumbled as the speedy Smith blazed around him on the outside. Greiss made a very good save on Smith, and got his toe on the rebound...which kept Hickey from making contact on his clear attempt. Instead the puck went off Nick Bjugstad's skate, off the post, off his foot, and back to his stick to put it in the empty net.
The deficit was back to two goals, at 3-1.
Oh, but this second period was far from over. The young line of Ryan Strome, Alan Quine and Shane Prince had another one of its energetic, buzzing shifts, and Pulock kept pressing up the boards to sustain the attack. That freed him for a keep-in on the right boards, where he slipped a great pass through the slot to Prince, who made an excellent shot off the upper post and in on Luongo's stick side.
That made it 3-2 at 11:48, and the Isles kept surging, albeit with the periodic frightening moment the other way. When Dmitry Kulikov bent over to take out Martin at the knees, he received a clipping call that put the Isles back on the power play. This time it was Frans Nielsen's turn, scooping a pass from John Tavares at the inside of the right wing faceoff circle to zip a backhand inside Luongo's near post.
So all knotted up at 3-3 with three minutes to go in the second period. New game. And new power play for the Panthers, after Casey Cizikas tripped Smith at 18:32. The Panthers nearly had the go-ahead goal on that one, then gave up a two-on-one to Nikolay Kulemin and Brock Nelson with time expiring. Rather than tie a storybook bow on the end of the period, they didn't get a shorthanded shot off.
All would be left for the third period. (And beyond.)
Third Period: Heartburn and Misery (This is Fun?)
Which was: Heart attack after heart attack. Johnny Boychuk's stick broke, giving Jiri Hudler a golden chance he sent wide. Tavares and Nelson each made fantastic plays at the blueline to create scoring chances. Jaromir Jagr had one of his frightening circles around the net right after the national broadcast had the nerve to point out he hadn't scored a playoff goal in four years and like 33 games. Pulock circled the net to set up Quine for a tip that skidded just wide. Smith had an uncontested chance from the circle that you were sure would go in because he's having a John Druce series.
There was more than all that, but those were typical. When you step back, it was entertaining playoff hockey, relentless board battles, no one giving an inch, crisp and focused passing under pressure. The final four minutes did slow to cagey playoff-overtime like care, with players defaulting to line changes and regroups rather than pushing for a late winner.
Overtime: This is fine, this is fine, this is bad, this is YES
Just what two teams playing the third high-paced playoff game in four nights needed: Overtime.
Overtime started with the Isles getting more of the pressure, mostly from the top line. But as things settled down into more conservative mode, it was the Panthers who had the better of pressure and chances from about six minutes in until Hickey's goal.
Hickey's OT winner pic.twitter.com/BpjjmIIAgk— Stephanie (@myregularface) April 18, 2016
This is Becoming a Thing
Hickey is no stranger to overtime goals, be they three-on-three, four-on-four, or five-on-five.
Hickey on game winners: I don’t ask questions. You just shoot...and if it goes in, I don’t think about it too much. I’m certainly fortunate.— Laura Albanese (@AlbaneseLaura) April 18, 2016
- Much better game from Kulemin, and Josh Bailey too. Kulemin looked more physically engaged than he's been in a while, and -- crucially -- he used it wisely.
- God love Travis Hamonic but one reason he logs quite so much ice time is he is the worst at getting caught out for long shifts. It's important not to change when ti's too dangerous to do so, but it always seems to catch him.
- Through a week of the playoffs so far (not just this series), I've concluded this year's playoff officiating is going by the "flip a coin on what we'll call, and when we'll call it" approach. I don't even ask questions anymore, I just hope they try to get as many heads as tails.
- Fine announcer overall, but Chris Cuthbert it's FRANS (frons) not FRAYANZ. He's got "Pull-ock" down perfectly though.
- From what I could tell, the Prince-Quine-Strome line played so little in the first (three shifts) because the Isles just had to keep throwing the fourth line (six shifts) out there for various psychological and superstitious reasons. There were four penalties in the period to require special teams, but jeez the two Islanders ones were to members of the fourth line.
- Part of it was due to them needing to counter two-goal deficits, but the Isles defense overall was much better at pushing the offense, and sustaining it once in the zone, in this game.
- The third period began for a few minutes with John Tavares waiting to get on the ice. It used to be a luxury that locker rooms be connected to the benches; now it feels ridiculous there are any buildings without that.
- It's a shame Thomas Hickey is too small to play in this league of big men.