The Islanders have been playing from behind for the majority of their quarterfinal series, yet they have a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven affair over the Atlantic Division-winning Florida Panthers. That advantage could be strengthened to a stranglehold if the Isles win Game 4 on home ice on Wednesday night.
The Panthers were 36-6-6 when scoring first in the regular season, the second-best mark in the NHL, but in spite of the Panthers grabbing the early lead in all three games, the Isles have managed to battle back each time.
Sunday’s Game 3, the third game in four nights for the clubs, was the most dramatic of the Islanders’ comebacks as defenseman Thomas Hickey won it in overtime with a one-timer shot off a perfect pass from behind the net from Brock Nelson.
“We had a good shift and grinded them out,” Hickey said after the game, “Somebody went to change, I saw a gap…just shoot the puck in overtime, that’s the key.”
The Isles were down 3-1 in the third period of Game 3, but Shane Price buried a feed from fellow rookie Ryan Pulock to make it 3-2 before Frans Neilsen came up with the equalizer on the power play with less than four minutes to go in regulation.
“You never want to be battling from behind,” Price told reporters, “but the good thing is we got the team that’s able to do that. We’ll try to get the first goal the next game.”
“You felt it coming once we got that first one and we got that momentum,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano told the media. “This is just the team that we are.”
Game 3 was the first NHL playoff game ever hosted by the Barclay’s Center, and the home team noticed the electricity in the atmosphere. “Our fans were great; I had goosebumps after the anthem,” Hickey said, “They stuck with us and they helped out a lot.”
The Islanders will look to keep the momentum on their side as they have home ice again on Wednesday night. And they have to be feeling confident knowing that they wore out the opposing netminder.
Panthers’ veteran goalie Roberto Luongo, who faced 107 shots in three games, said of the early part of this series; “I need the rest. Three games in four nights with an overtime so I’m pretty exhausted right now. I need a couple days to re-energize here and get ready for Wednesday.”
Though the Panthers may be down, they are certainly not out. “We have to have a short memory,” said right winger Reilly Smith, who leads his team with eight points (four goals) in the series. “It’s a long series. If we take the next one, we’re all square going home.”
That’s exactly what the Isles will be looking to avoid. If they drop this game, they’ll be stuck in a best-of-three series with the Panthers having home ice. The Islanders are especially familiar with this scenario, having dropped Game 4 to the Capitals in last year’s quarterfinal before being ousted in a decisive Game 7 in Washington.