Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning takes Islanders' blows, then delivers Game 3 knockout (w/video)

NEW YORK — You can't kill 'em. You just can't kill 'em.

The team that never says die refused to die Tuesday in Brooklyn.

You can check them — legally or otherwise. You can hit them — clean or dirty. You can try to intimidate them with your words and physical play.

But you just cannot kill them.

"That was a gritty win for our team," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said.

As a result, Tampa Bay has taken a 2-1 series lead against the Islanders thanks to Tuesday night's incredible, never-give-up, take-that 5-4 overtime victory.

Need a tangible example to perfectly capture what this team is all about? Here ya go:

Second period. Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning's newest brightest star, collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and set his sights on the Islanders net.

What was not in his sights was Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey, who definitely had Drouin in his sights. In fact, you could say Drouin was in his crosshairs.

As Drouin raced into the New York zone, he dipped to his left, Hickey catapulted himself and launched his shoulder into Drouin's jaw. And just like that, another Lightning player headed to the locker room. Dirty hit? Debatable. But, the intent hardly matters.

The result of that hit — dirty or otherwise — is what matters. Another Lightning player went down. Another key player in its attempt to return to the Stanley Cup final was knocked out of the lineup. Drouin's name was added to the list of Tampa Bay's skating wounded.

But wait. Who is this climbing over the boards in the third period? The kid, Drouin, setting up Nikita Kucherov's tying goal with only 38.4 seconds left to silence the crowd and force overtime.

"It's kind of apropos how the whole thing worked out the way it did," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That was a thunderous hit. … It's pretty cool that he was the guy who set up the game-tying goal."

There was never a doubt in Drouin's mind.

"I was sitting (in the locker room) feeling fine," Drouin said. "I was ready to go back out there. Went for a little skate and felt normal.'

He played better than normal. Drouin didn't give up.

"He could have easily taken the rest of the night off," Johnson said. "He comes back and sets up the game-tying goal. Huge. He didn't give up."

Neither did his teammates. And another chapter to the Lightning's adventure was written with this victory.

"We always like to say we never quit," Johnson said. "We didn't quit tonight."

Does it ever?

"We learned a lot last year," Johnson said. "It's never over until it's over."

It sure seemed over several times Tuesday.

The Islanders came out flying, as expected, and yet Tampa Bay not only withstood the early onslaught ( and a quick 1-0 deficit), but tied the score with only 12 seconds left in the first on Ryan Callahan's first goal of the playoffs.

In a weird way, after being dominated for much of the first, that might have been Tampa Bay's most important goal of the night. Well, outside of Brian Boyle's OT winner.

"You think about big goals that we scored," Cooper said, "to get that goal with only 12 seconds left? To come out of there 1-1 was big for us."

Much of that credit goes to goalie Ben Bishop, who made 16 first-period saves.

But Callahan's goal was only one of the huge goals Tampa Bay kept scoring all night.

Vlad Namestnikov's first playoff goal tied the game early in the third, only 58 seconds after the Islanders had taken a 3-2 lead.

When the Islanders took a 4-3 lead with 8:37 left, the Lightning looked done.

"I would be lying to you if we weren't a little disappointed by that," Johnson said. "But we learned a lot last year. We feel like we have a lot of confidence in our group. We've been in a lot of different situations that we know we can come back from. We just knew were going to have to dig our heels in and try to push more."

The Lightning pushed indeed.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? Why should be stunned by what happened Tuesday night?

Never count this team out. Ever. It plays without Steven Stamkos and doesn't miss a beat. It plays without top-flight defenseman Anton Stralman and keeps on trucking. No injury seems too big. No obstacle seems too great. No hurdle seems too high.

The Lightning simply hikes up its britches, rolls up its sleeves and goes to work.

Tuesday's win did come with some controversy. After the game, Islanders coach Jack Capuano complained that just before Boyle scored the winning goal, he elbowed an Islanders player in the head. Capuano complained a penalty should have been called, that the winning goal should not have counted. He said his team got a raw deal and wants a suspension to Boyle.

Meantime, instead of complaining after the hit on Drouin, which seemed worse than the hit delivered by Boyle, the Lightning went to work.

It went to work and won a game with high-drama and yet low blood pressure. Just like you would expect from a team that never quits, that never says die.

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