Everyone knew it. Once Jonathan Drouin set up Nikita Kucherov with 39 seconds remaining in the third period in Game 3, there was a sense of doom that fell over Atlantic and Flatbush. On the precipice of taking a 2-1 series lead and having a chance to take a commanding advantage on Friday, the Islanders had let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers.
New York scored twice in the third period to grab a 4-3 lead, but faltered late, squandering two leads in the third period. Now, their fate might be headed in a very different direction.
"You've just got to not get too high or too low," Johnny Boychuk told reporters after the game. "We've won a few of these already, it's our first OT loss. I thought we played well for the most part."
That's what stings the most. The Islanders did play extremely well, and probably deserved to get out of dodge on Tuesday night with a victory. Their first period, in which they outshot Tampa 17-9, was dominant, even if they came away from it tied at one. Where they failed was letting Tampa control the play late, as the Lightning's push never stopped after Cal Clutterbuck put the Isles up 4-3. Tampa out-attempted the Islanders 17-4 after Clutterbuck's goal.
"Obviously it stings, you're so close," said John Tavares, who was held without a point for the second straight game and was on the ice for Kucherov's tying goal. "We've got to do a better job with that opportunity and a lot of that is on me."
The loss, though, doesn't go without some extremely confounding aspects: a late line decision and some awful officiating.
For Jack Capuano, who I think has coached a heck of a postseason, I couldn't quite wrap my head around sending the Tavares line out for that late shift that resulted in the Kucherov equalizer. The fourth line -- which played an outstanding game -- had just come off, and Matt Martin had made two hellacious blocks to preserve the 4-3 advantage, so they had to go somewhere else. I thought Frans Nielsen's line would have been a better choice, but I can't fault Cappy too much for leaning on his top unit, who probably had the best chance of hitting the empty net. Kyle Okposo, though, very clearly got lost defensively on Kucherov's equalizer, so it came back to bite them.
Then, there were the officials. Here's the requisite qualifier: I hate to complain about officiating, because the game moves at such a fast pace, it's hard to completely fault them. That said, the illegal hit delivered by Brian Boyle to Thomas Hickey that they missed, which directly set up and led to the game-winner, was quite possibly one of the most egregious non-calls you'll see. What's more, not giving Shane Prince a penalty shot when he was slashed from behind on a breakaway attempt (seeing the officials explain to an incredulous Doug Weight that "it wasn't a breakaway" may have been as entertaining as the game itself) was atrocious.
Add it all up and you get one frustrating night for Islanders country -- one they'll have to bounce back from quickly after two nights of Beliebers invade Barclays Center.
"We knew a little adversity would come eventually," Prince said. "It's a game we should have won tonight, but we've got to put it behind us."