While “dismay” may be an appropriate word to describe a playoff team falling behind by a game, “anger” best fits the Islanders’ psyche as they look ahead to their next chance to get even on Friday night at home.
The anger developed over what the home club considers a missed referee’s call that led to the Lightning’s 5-4 overtime-winning goal. And the dismay figures to last until the next puck drop at Barclays Center.
When Isles defenseman Thomas Hickey was hit in OT along the right boards by what the Isles consider an illegal Brian Boyle elbow to the head, the Brooklynites expected a two-minute penalty setting up an Islanders power play.
Referring to recent head-bashing suspensions to Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang, Jack Capuano makes no bones about his assertion that Boyle deserves likewise for wiping out his defenseman.
“I’m sure the league is going to take a look at it,” fumes the Isles coach. “I watched Orpik and Letang. It (Boyle’s elbow) was a direct shot to the head. Those are the type of hits we’re trying to eliminate.”
Following protocol, according to an NHL spokesman, the league reviews all head hits and did check out the Boyle check on Hickey. The league decided that no further action be taken.
As Hickey slumped to the ice, Boyle barreled into the New York zone and eventually scored the winner on a puck that crazily bounced off the boards on to his stick.
Naturally, Cappy claims it should never have happened had the ref penalized Boyle.
“It’s frustrating it had to end that particular way,” Capuano concludes, “with a head shot.”
No less frustrating was the fact that his club held a one-goal lead only to lose it with 38.4 seconds remaining in the third period. Nikita Kucherov’s wrister beat Thomas Greiss with the Bolts playing with six skaters.
“We just gave them a lot of room in the middle of the ice,” explains captain John Tavares, who failingly was trying to intercept the puck. “A lot of that is on me.”
The problems on that decisive goal began with the Islanders failing to get good puck control and clear the zone, a bugaboo that has haunted them in the postseason.
“We just had a little breakdown at the end,” Cappy adds.
No less painful was wasting a pair of Josh Bailey goals and a Cal Clutterbuck red-lighter at 11:23 of the third that loomed as the potential winner.
“It sucks,” admits Casey Cizikas, who excelled on the fourth line with Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. “We had the lead a couple of times but we’ll learn from tonight and move forward.”
Typically stoical despite the defeat, Greiss prefers looking ahead rather than backward but concedes his dismay with the result.
If any silver lining can be sewed on to the adversity, it was the superior offensive thrusts — and two goals — delivered by Bailey.
“The loss stings,” says Bailey who returned from an injury, “but it’s all part of the ride. As for Friday, it’s about refocusing and getting ready to go.”
If nothing else, the Islanders know they’re up against a resilient Tampa Bay sextet. The 2015 Stanley Cup finalists managed to do enough right things — like tying the game so late in the third period — in a raucous arena.
If Friday’s tilt is to tilt the Isles way, some changes must be made in terms of shutting down the ever-dangerous Tampa offense.
As for the whistle, the Isles insist should have been blown before the game-winner, Tavares shakes his head in dismay about what might have been.
“Obviously, Hicks (Thomas Hickey) was down,” concludes the Captain. “You can say a lot about what should be called; what shouldn’t be called. What was called in the third period, compare that.”
“It blows your mind sometimes. It happens and we have to overcome those things.”
Behind two games to one, the Isles have three days to forget about the non-call that appeared — to Islanders’ eyes — to cost them a precious playoff game.
A one-game deficit certainly can be overcome. Which brings me to eight points that could knot the series for the Isles.
1. Keep shooting. The Isles had success putting every puck on net.
2. Passing must be crisper, more tape-to-tape.
3. Eliminate soft plays on or off the puck.
4. Capitalize on chances; the Isles could have had two or three more goals in the first period.
5. They must clear their zone more effectively. Start with winning faceoffs.
6. Keep neutralizing Tampa’s speed in all three zones.
7. Grind out each shift.
8. Force the Lightning to make more mistakes.