Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Twenty-eight times in 289 instances. That is an insanely low number of teams that have been able to pick themselves up off the ground and rebound from a three-games-to-one series deficit in NHL history. The New York Islanders, if they are to survive and advance to the Eastern Conference finals to play the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals series, will have to be team No. 29.
To a man, they all seemed pretty confident they will be able to, at a minimum, bring their best game tomorrow afternoon at Amalie Arena in Tampa when the series resumes in Game 5 (3 p.m. ET, NBC).
"Play bad and win, play good and lose. It doesn't really matter at this point. We just have to win," is how Kyle Okposo put it so eloquently last night after the Lightning grabbed full control of the series with their second consecutive overtime victory at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Another way to exude faith in the current group that assembles in the locker room is to listen to Ryan Strome, back from being a healthy scratch in game three.
"I have no doubt that we will come out Sunday with our best game and effort," Strome said. "We are a very resilient group in here".
Head coach Jack Capuano has coached this club masterfully over the last month or so, getting New York to this point, but his questionable decisions late in Game 3 will have to be looked upon as a turning point in the series, granted the Lightning choose to not go against history and close the Islanders out over the course of the next three games.
Instead of relying upon his best defensive forwards to close the game out at home, up a goal with under a minute to play following an icing, Capuano instead seemed to go for an empty net goal that would have sealed the deal. It's a dangerous strategy and one that certainly did not pay off. If Capuano elects to use his timeout in that scenario (which he didn't) he could have came right back with his fourth line, arguably the best in hockey, even though they had just completed a shift.
The other option would have been to send out a trio of Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey (who was excellent in game three) and Nikolay Kulemin, three of the best defensive forwards he has at his disposal. Instead, captain John Tavares - sub-par all season in his own zone - and Okposo were sent out with Nielsen. Jonathan Drouin would feed Nikita Kucherov in the slot, tying the game with 38 seconds remaining, before Brian Boyle would end it in controversial style in overtime.
The Islanders do deserve some credit, however, as they have played the Lightning to three very close, competitive hockey games, yet find themselves on the short end of the series score. They have done so without Anders Lee, who I feel would have been a huge factor in a setup such as this, starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Pulock, who just returned last night from a five-game absence. They have also done so with zero-to-little offensive contributions out of Brock Nelson, Strome and Bailey. Not many, if any, are 100 percent healthy at this time of the year, and it seems that Johnny Boychuk and Cal Clutterbuck, specifically, are playing with injuries.
But while those remain facts, the reality is they can also be considered excuses. In my series preview here at SNY, I was concerned that the Lightning, a much more seasoned and experienced team with a super head coach in Jon Cooper and one year removed from an appearance in the final, would be able to exploit New York's defensive mistakes when the Florida Panthers couldn't. They have.
Staying true to their system, they never panicked when behind - three times in game three, last night until mid third period - and sealed the deal in game two up by two goals in the final period, stepping on the Islanders throats and not letting them close to Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop. They have done the things the Islanders have not been able to do, and seized the space given to them in the offensive zone when the Islanders have lost their concentration and focus.
To say the Islanders aren't a good hockey team, as some of the social media reaction has led me to believe a small subset are trying to say, simply isn't fair or accurate. They might not be ready for prime time just yet, but have made significant strides over the course of the last four years.
The team and organization aren't a laughing stock anymore, much to the chagrin of some in the mainstream media. They should be considered, maybe not even arguably, the best hockey team in the New York metro area. How the summer unfolds will go a long way in determining if they are ready to assume that title and continue to grow, as the roster could look significantly different when the 2016-17 season begins.
The Islanders could have done many things differently in this series, which is not over yet, but that is all part of the maturation process. Sometimes, the other team is just a little luckier and a little better.