The New York Islanders have experienced plenty of twists and turns throughout the longest NHL season of all time.
Now, the Islanders need to mount at least one more ride on the roller coaster.
The Islanders will look to avoid falling into a big hole Friday night when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in Edmonton.
The Lightning took a 2-0 lead in dramatic fashion Wednesday night, when Nikita Kucherov scored the tiebreaking goal with 8.8 seconds left in the third period to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win.
Kucherov’s goal capped an alternately encouraging and frustrating game for both teams.
The Lightning was outshot 28-21 — the 21 shots were their fewest since recording 21 shots against the Boston Bruins on March 3 — and spent most of the game without right winger Alex Killorn, who was ejected for boarding Brock Nelson early in the first period. Tampa Bay also lost its leading playoff scorer, center Brayden Point, to an undisclosed injury shortly before the midway point of the second period.
But the goal by Kucherov — the second-latest tiebreaking third-period playoff goal in franchise history — extended the Lightning’s winning streak to six games and left them two victories shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2015.
“Rarely do you lose guys in a game, let alone two guys, early,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s a long stretch to go with just nine (forwards).”
The Lightning may have to do it again Friday. The NHL announced Thursday that Killorn was suspended for Game 4, and Cooper acknowledged Point might not play.
“In the end it was gutty,” Cooper said. “That’s what that effort was. It was just gutty.”
The Islanders looked far fresher and better than they did Monday night in an 8-2 loss in Game 1, yet squandered numerous opportunities Wednesday to score a second goal. New York was 0-for-4 on the power play, including a five-minute man advantage after Killorn was ejected as well as a 5-on-3 opportunity in the third period.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” said Islanders right winger Matt Martin, who scored 84 seconds into the game. “Play like that, more often than not, you’re going to win. After a blowout loss, I liked our response as a group.”
Only two teams — the 1984 Islanders and the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins — have come back from an 0-2 hole to win a conference finals series. But New York, which had a franchise-record 17-game point streak from Oct. 12 through Nov. 23 before falling into ninth place in the East by losing its last seven games prior to the regular season ending due to the pandemic, has plenty of experience mounting comebacks.
The Islanders won 10 of their first 13 playoff games in the Toronto bubble and lost in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers in Games 5 and 6 before rolling to a 4-0 win in Game 7 of the semifinals last Saturday.
“We’ve lost some overtime games, we’ve lost in different ways that punches us in the stomach a few times,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “This one’s a little bit of a shot to the gut. And every time we’ve done that, we’ve got up.”