In the immediate aftermath of the New York Islanders' 5-4 Game 3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Isles coach Jack Capuano was asked and didn't hold back about the Brian Boyle hit on Thomas Hickey just before Boyle's overtime winner.
He thought it was a headshot -- upon further review, it may have been a late hit or interference more than anything -- but others looking at the replay disagreed.
His reaction is understandable after an emotional loss in an intense, hectic, back-and-forth finish to what was his team's best effort of the series' first three games. Adding to the burn, the game-winner came after a series of bounces that went the Lightning's way.
But regardless of what one makes of the Boyle hit -- Capuano, who usually doesn't venture about such things, thought it was a headshot and worthy of a suspension, while Jon Cooper thought it was fine and far from the game's worst -- the Isles lost their best chance to win this one when they couldn't hold on to the lead down the stretch.
It's always a chaotic challenge when the opponent has the advantage of a sixth attacker and the desperation to throw the kitchen sink, as the Lightning possessed with Brian Bishop pulled for the final couple of minutes. But the Isles had some of their best players out there, including the fabled core of John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, who have been through so much together as longtime Islanders.
Combined with defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Thomas Hickey, they simply left the Lightning too much room to move the puck around the perimeter while penetrating the house for a prime shot, as Nikita Kucherov unleashed from the slot after being fed by Jonathan Drouin.
The Isles had spent the better part of the final five minutes trying to kill the game, something every team does while tempting fate to varying degrees of fortune and success. To their credit, they created a few chances before that, with Josh Bailey and Nikolay Kulemin both being stopped by Ben Bishop in prime attempts to make it 5-3.
But the final couple of minutes of the game were spent in prevent mode, hoping they could survive the six-on-five attack as well as a couple of unnecessary icings. No one pressured Drouin on the equalizer, and Kucherov had too much room on his deflected shot to score as the Lightning successfully weaved the puck around the zone and drew the Islanders out.
Kucherov found the perfect soft spot; Tavares was close but not close enough:
Tavares admitted as much, as quoted in this Neil Best column in Newsday:
"We just gave them a little too much room in the middle of the ice," he said. "A lot of that's on me as the weak side forward. I have to just slide in there. I tried to get my stick in there and I just hit his skates. No excuse for it. Have to close him off."
Like the Boyle hit, it happens. (And the fact several neutral observers differed over whether Boyle's hit was more than a marginal interference tells you, at minimum, it's understandable that a ref let it go in overtime.)
Like the Isles' three overtime wins in the first round, this is just playoff hockey.
There are only eight teams left because it is hard to get here, and even harder to make it to the final four.
After being so close to winning, Tuesday night was a moral blow to the team and its fans alike, but if this flawed yet spirited group is going to make this year special, they'll have to survive plenty more adversity than that.
Fan favorite and Game 3 two-goal scorer Josh Bailey knows that:
"It's all part of the playoffs. You have these swings in momentum. You just refocus & get ready for the next one." pic.twitter.com/1vs8cOEGOZ— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 4, 2016