The Islanders aren’t likely to forgive what they saw as a head shot from Lightning forward Brian Boyle on Thomas Hickey in overtime of Game 3, nor the lack of a whistle from referees Brad Watson and Steve Kozari before Boyle scored the OT winner a few seconds later.
But they have to forget. Game 4 is coming on Friday at Barclays Center and, provided Hickey recovers from the hit and can play, the only change the Islanders want is in the outcome.
“There’s a lot of good things you can take away from it,” Capuano said on Wednesday of his team’s play in Game 3. “That was Islander hockey, we played to our identity and that’s the way we have to play if we’re going to have success this series.”
The Islanders had Wednesday off, so there was no word on Hickey’s status. He was bleeding from the nose and mouth in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s sudden loss. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety declined to hold a hearing for Boyle or for Hickey, who had leveled Tampa’s Jonathan Drouin with a high, hard hit in the second period that knocked Drouin from the game for about 20 minutes.
Capuano spoke forcefully about Boyle’s hit on Tuesday night postgame and a night’s sleep didn’t soften his view.
“I watched it — very seldom do I have time to watch video right after a game, but I did watch it and to me the hit was high,” Capuano said on a Wednesday morning conference call. “It’s an odd-man rush going the other way, too. [Watson] has a split-second decision to make a call there. To me, the hit was high and it led to a really good scoring chance for them . . . Seeing Thomas after the game, bleeding out of his mouth, his teeth. He got hit in the head. I’m not going to change my opinion on it.”
The Islanders’ breakdowns in Game 3 may be a focus of Thursday’s practice when the team reconvenes. For all they did well, particularly on the offensive end, Tampa’s two third-period goals resulted from breakdowns with John Tavares’ line on the ice.
The one that hurt the most was Nikita Kucherov’s game-tying goal with 38.4 seconds to play. Capuano defended the decision to put Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen out to try and preserve the win with 1:10 to go. Casey Cizikas’ line had cleared the zone and Capuano went to his top line to seal it.
“Honestly, the whole game we had kind of what we wanted,” Capuano said of the matchups. “Even 91 vs. [Victor] Hedman. Casey’s line did a great job, the two blocks by Matty Martin just before. We had two center men on the ice in case we got caught in a situation, we had some veteran leadership out there and we just didn’t collapse on the guy who got the goal.”
The Islanders have been inconsistent at times this season, not just from game to game but period to period — they have trailed for at least part of every playoff game except one, Game 5 against the Panthers. That may end up being a positive as they find themselves behind in a series for the first time this postseason.
Especially coming off a game the Islanders believed they deserved to win.
“That was probably one of the best games we played all year,” Capuano said. “We finally got our ‘D’ activating in the offense more than we have, we just played a solid game. If you look at the chances we had, we had chances to put the game away and they bounced back.”
Notes & quotes: D Ryan Pulock (upper body) did not suffer a setback in his recovery, according to a source. He will likely practice Thursday and could be ready to return for Friday’s Game 4 . . . Boyle and Travis Hamonic exchanged words during Game 3 warmups after Hamonic bumped Boyle as the two skated near center ice. Boyle was asked if that had ever happened before. “Not in this league, no,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.