Brooklyn Boro

Islanders halfway home entering Game 4

Look to Grab Commanding 3-1 Series Lead Wednesday in Brooklyn

April 19, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thomas Hickey ended the first-ever NHL playoff game in Brooklyn with an overtime goal Sunday night, giving the hometown Islanders a 4-3 victory and a 2-1 series lead over the Florida Panthers. AP photo
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Thomas Hickey felt it, and so did the rest of the New York Islanders.

Hours before Hickey’s dramatic overtime goal gave the Islanders a 2-1 series lead over the Florida Panthers Sunday night, the 15,795 fans gathered beneath the roof of Downtown’s Barclays Center finally made the state-of-the-art arena feel like home to its first-year tenants.

“I love our fans, but I didn’t know it was going to be that good,” Hickey said of the full-throated, rally towel-waving throng that helped New York overcome a pair of two-goal deficits en route to pulling out a scintillating 4-3 OT triumph in the first-ever NHL playoff game played in our fair borough.

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“I had goosebumps after that national anthem, just taking it all in,” added the 27-year-old Calgary native, who rattled the “New Barn” by swooping down the middle and one-timing a feed from linemate Josh Bailey past Florida netminder Roberto Luongo at 12:31 of the extra session.

The goal provided the Islanders with a leg up on the Panthers as both teams continue to pursue their first playoff series win in two decades-plus.

New York, which hasn’t been on the good end of a post-series handshake line since 1993, is now two wins away from ending that mind-numbing drought at the expense of a franchise that hasn’t advanced in the playoffs since 1996.

Game 4, scheduled for Wednesday night here at 8 p.m., figures to provide more of the same up-and-down action we’ve seen throughout this hard-fought series.

The Isles took Game 1 in Florida, 5-4, last Thursday night, overcoming three one-goal deficits in hostile territory as goaltender Thomas Greiss stopped 42 shots in his first career playoff start and team captain John Tavares notched a goal and two assists.

The Panthers answered with a 3-1 victory Friday, putting the pressure on the Isles to defend their home ice Sunday evening.

They did so in heart-stopping fashion, in large part due to head coach Jack Capuano’s challenge of a Florida goal that would have given the visitors a 3-0 second-period advantage.

The tally was overturned due to an offside, deftly captured on replay by the team’s video coordinator Matt Bertani.

“At times, you can see from the [bench] where it might be goalie interference or offsides,” Capuano said. “Our video guy did a great job calling that in. That was the turning point. Down by two is a lot different than down by three.”

From there, New York scored three of the next four goals before Hickey sent Brooklyn fans home happy with his game-ending score.

“We had our ups and downs, but we didn’t get discouraged at all,” Hickey said. “I think that was huge, to get down, come back and show that it really doesn’t matter what the score is.”

Florida has opened the scoring in all three contests thus far, making it difficult for the Isles to take back momentum.

But New York is poised to take command of the best-of-7 series Wednesday night in front of what defenseman Travis Hamonic described as a scene reminiscent of the team’s halcyon days on Long Island.

“The roof isn’t as old as the Coliseum’s was, but it sounded like it was going to come off,” Hamonic said of the support the Isles received from their new fan base.

“I think there’s certainly been some anticipation throughout the year and as soon as we made the playoffs that we were ready for this game and the crowd was going to be ready,” he added. “We wanted to make sure we gave them a good game and we certainly did. They got their money’s worth tonight.”

While the Isles’ top line of Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen has provided the bulk of the scoring in this series, younger, unproven players like Ryan Pulock, Shane Prince and Alan Quine have stepped up in critical moments throughout the first three games.

Those contributions, and the continued strong play of Greiss, will be necessary for the Isles to finally get the proverbial postseason monkey off their backs.

“Obviously [Tavares] and those guys, they’ve been playing great,” said Pulock, who netted the Isles’ first goal Sunday following Capuano’s timely challenge.  “But some of us younger guys can step up here and really make a difference.

“It doesn’t all come at once,” Pulock added. “But each game you get a lot more comfortable out there and you’ve just got to feed off that and keep going.”

The same can be said for the 15,000-plus who will fill the Barclays Center to the rafters Wednesday night.

They’re becoming more and more comfortable with the idea that this is their team, and that this is their time to make a serious run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Right here in Downtown Brooklyn.

Isle Have Another: Florida’s Reilly Smith is literally killing the Isles through the first three games of the series, registering four goals and four assists to figure in eight of the Panthers’ 10 tallies against Greiss … Ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, on the other hand, has been held completely off the scoresheet by New York thus far … Tavares and Okposo have combined for three goals and eight assists in the series … The Isles are 3-for-9 on the power play thus far and scored two extra-strength goals in the same playoff game Sunday for the first time since 2002 against Toronto … New York is 31-14 all-time in postseason overtime contests.

 


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