The Islanders revived after a successful coach’s challenge and pulled out a 4-3 overtime win on Thomas Hickey’s goal at 12:31 of the extra session Sunday night at Barclays Center.
After a very cautious third period and OT, Hickey scored his first career playoff goal, putting home a feed from Brock Nelson to beat Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo and put the Islanders ahead 2-1 in the series, with Game 4 coming on Wednesday.
After the craziness of the second period — a successful challenge by Jack Capuano, five goals and the Islanders’ rally from two goals down — the third period was played at a tamer pace. Nelson had the best chance to untie it for either side, missing over the top of the net when he cruised in alone with just under five minutes to go.
Just as Game 3 against the Capitals last year went to OT, so did this Game 3.
The game turned on the first coach’s challenge of the series and boy, did it turn.
Jonathan Huberdeau had crossed the Islanders line a full 11 seconds before Aaron Ekblad snapped a wrist shot over Thomas Greiss’ shoulder to apparently make it 3-0 Panthers at 4:08 of the second. After a brief delay, Capuano informed the officiating crew the Islanders were challenging for offside.
Linesmen Bryan Pancich and Scott Driscoll spent several minutes huddled over the tablet in the penalty box and finally determined that Huberdeau’s left skate entered the Islanders zone a hair before the puck, taking the goal off the board and resetting the clock.
Within 90 seconds, the Panthers had taken two penalties and Pulock rifled one past Luongo to bring the electricity back into Barclays Center and pull the Islanders within a goal at 2-1. It was Pulock’s first career playoff goal.
Smith was still flying on his next shift, though. Greiss managed to deny Smith’s breakaway but the puck pinballed to Nick Bjugstad, who stuffed it into an open net for a 3-1 Panthers lead at 7:23.
The Islanders were still energized, though, particularly their youth. Alan Quine’s line hemmed the Panthers in and Pulock found Shane Prince down the slot and he beat Luongo at 11:48 to cut the deficit back to a goal.
With another power play late in the period — Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov low-bridged Matt Martin on a harmless dump-in — Frans Nielsen put a backhander past Luongo off a feed from John Tavares at 16:55. That sent the sellout crowd back into a frenzy and sending the game to the third period all square at 3.
For the third straight game, the Panthers took an early lead. And it was Smith, already the most dangerous player in the first two games, who swept a bouncing rebound past Greiss at 2:25 of the first. It was Smith’s fourth goal in just over two games and it wasn’t a good one, with Greiss juggling Alex Petrovic’s soft toss from the point down to Smith’s feet.
The Islanders could not pull even and the Panthers grabbed a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second thanks again to Smith. His wrist shot banked wide off the end boards and right out front to Aleksander Barkov, who stuffed home an easy goal 13 seconds after Martin’s minor had expired.
The Panthers were flying high, seemingly ready to slam the door on a 2-1 series lead with Ekblad’s apparent goal 2:57 later. But the newly installed coach’s challenge changed everything.