The New York Islanders could have shrugged their shoulders and gone out with a whimper after their two-goal lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning slipped away in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday.
Sure, there’s character up and down the lineup, a big reason New York, the No. 6 seed in the East, is one of four teams remaining in the bubble. But between Tyler Johnson’s tying goal with 7:56 remaining in the third period and Nikita Kucherov’s game-winner with nine seconds remaining in Game 2 that allowed Tampa Bay, the No. 2 seed, to extend its series lead, the Islanders could have looked at each other and said, “OK, this just isn’t our year.”
But they’re not going away without a fight, not after Brock Nelson, who was on the wrong end of an illegal hit into the boards and a cross-check in Game 2, restored New York’s lead to 4-3 with 3:25 left. The resolve was on full display when Jean-Gabriel Pageau outraced Kucherov for an empty-net goal in the final minute for a 5-3 win.
“All you have to do is look at the situation and the amount of time we’ve spent, the amount of time we’ve put into this entire process,” Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck said. “I just think the way the guys are, the way we are, I just think we’ve come too far. I don’t think packing it in is really a part of this team.