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Isles fit to be tied entering critical Game 4

Must ‘Overcome’ Difficult Loss to Even Up Series with Tampa Bay

May 5, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Team captain John Tavares and the rest of the New York Islanders know the importance of winning Game 4 here in Brooklyn on Friday night. AP photo
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Almost to a man, the New York Islanders conceded that Game 3 of their best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning represented their best team hockey thus far this postseason.

The hitting was there in abundance, the shots on goal came in bunches, the crowd was in full throat for most of the evening and Thomas Greiss was solid in net yet again, stopping 36 shots and keeping the Islanders afloat until getting beat by Nikita Kutcherov on the game-tying tally in the final minute of regulation.  

The fact that the contest resulted in a hard-to-swallow loss, one that was prompted by Brian Boyle’s thunderous, and now semi-infamous, hit on Thomas Hickey and subsequent game-winning overtime goal off a fortunate bounce, made it even more galling for the Islanders to accept.

“It sucks,” veteran center Casey Cizikas intimated matter-of-factly, doubtlessly echoing the sentiments of the 15,000-plus fans who showed up hoping to see the Islanders take a 2-1 series lead.

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“We had the lead there a couple of times and we gave it up. We have to learn from what happened tonight and move on.”

They’d better learn fast and move on even faster if they hope to advance to their first conference finals since 1993 against a Tampa Bay team that clearly smells blood in the water after swiping Game 3 in hostile territory.

“Now it’s about how you respond,” forward Josh Bailey emphasized in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night’s soul-crushing 5-4 OT defeat to the defending Eastern Conference champions.

“We obviously have to overcome it,” added team captain John Tavares, who has been held scoreless in back-to-back defeats to the Lightning after emerging as an early Conn Smyth Trophy (playoff MVP) candidate with six goals and five assists in New York’s first seven playoff contests.

The Islanders are behind in a playoff series for the first time during this exhilarating run toward Lord Stanley’s Cup, something the organization hasn’t captured since the halcyon days of 1980-83, when Uniondale, N.Y. hosted four consecutive championship parades.

If these Islanders hope to keep alive their dream of capping Season One here in Brooklyn with a ticker-tape procession down Flatbush Avenue, they’d best leave  Game 3 where it is, in the past, and get even with the Lightning Friday night before what should be another raucous, capacity crowd at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“[Game 3] was Islander hockey,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “We played to our identity, and that’s the way that we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have success in this series.

“Both teams want to play a fast, physical brand of hockey and they want the pace as high as it can be,” added Capuano, whose issue with Boyle’s big hit on Hickey fell on deaf ears at the NHL’s executive offices.

Now, the Isles must stop whining and begin winning again after reeling off three straight playoff victories, including the opener of this series, before their recent two-game funk.

If not, Friday night’s Game 4 could actually mark the final contest they play on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues this season as they would then potentially face elimination back in Tampa on Sunday.

But no one in these parts wants this run to end, especially not those with tickets to a potential Game 6 back here in Brooklyn.

“You have to [rebound],” insisted defenseman Johnny Boychuk, one of the few Isles players who has lifted the Stanley Cup during his time with the Boston Bruins.

“We just have to put it behind us and try to win the next one.”

If not, Game 4 here in Brooklyn could turn out to be the last one.

Isle Have Another:  The Islanders and the NHL announced Thursday that Tavares has been named a finalist for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, presented annually to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice, during the regular season. The Islanders’ captain since 2013-14, Tavares led the club to its second consecutive 100 point season (as well as its third playoff berth in the past four years). He also continued his Teammates Program, which has provided tickets and VIP game experiences for sick and underprivileged children for the past five seasons. Special Olympics, Ronald McDonald House, and Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center are among the various organizations Tavares’ Teammates Program supports. To date, Tavares has spent more than $32,000 in purchasing tickets for these special game experiences. He also personally donated $5,000 as part of Islanders Military Appreciation Night this past November, jumpstarting the teams’ personal donation of $30,000 to host more than 300 active and retired service members. Messier, considered one of hockey’s greatest leaders, solicits suggestions from club and league personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. This year, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber will join Tavares as final candidates for the prestigious award. The winner will be announced Wednesday June, 22, during the 2016 NHL Awards hosted by actor Will Arnett at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

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