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Lightning's Cooper defends Boyle's crucial hit in Game 3 win (w/video)

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) takes the puck off the boards and shoots to score a goal against the New York Islanders during the overtime period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in New York. The Lightning won 5-4. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) NYJJ132
Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) takes the puck off the boards and shoots to score a goal against the New York Islanders during the overtime period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in New York. The Lightning won 5-4. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) NYJJ132
Published May 4, 2016

NEW YORK — The hit by Islanders D Thomas Hickey on RW Jonathan Drouin was definitely the biggest of Tuesday's Game 1, temporarily knocking the 21-year-old wing out of the game.

"Thunderous," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

But it was C Brian Boyle's hit on Hickey in overtime that was the most controversial, a livid Islanders coach Jack Capuano expecting a suspension for the veteran Lightning center.

"It's a direct shot to the head," Capuano said. "I mean, probably going to get suspended a game. That's what I mean, the whole game, it shouldn't come down to that. (The referee) is standing right there. I've watched it numerous times now. Those are the types of hits that we're trying to eliminate from our game."

On the play, Boyle appeared to catch his shoulder/upper arm up high on Hickey near the Islanders blueline. Hickey went down, and Boyle scored the winning goal about 10 seconds later.

Boyle said there was no malicious intent, and isn't expecting supplemental discipline. "I don't think so," Boyle said. "I've never had anything like that in my career. At this point, I don't really have any control."

Cooper, who noted Hickey's hit on Drouin was debatable, defended Boyle. "There were 15 harder (hits) than the one Boyle was involved in, and one was a really hard hit," Cooper said. "To me, that was mild compared to the banging going on in that hockey game."

Blunden back: RW Mike Blunden returned to the lineup after missing the first two games with an undisclosed injury.

RW Erik Condra (upper body) hoped to return too, but was scratched for the second straight game. RW Jonathan Marchessault was a healthy scratch, as the Lightning went with seven defensemen, D Slater Koekkoek and D Matt Taormina slotting in.

More medical: D Anton Stralman (fractured leg) participated in Tuesday's optional morning skate, his first with the team since suffering the injury March 25.

But it didn't necessarily mean his return is imminent. Stralman, who had skated on his own before practice since Friday, would likely need some full team skates, with contract drills, before coming back. Even RW J.T. Brown (upper body), who didn't have a full stick, took part in Tuesday's skate. So did D Matt Carle (undisclosed), who missed his second straight game.

Like Stamkos: When Rays RHP Alex Cobb heard Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was skating last week — just a month removed from vascular surgery — he was surprised.

"Shocked," Cobb said.

Cobb had the same surgery in August 2011 after also suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a blood clot in his collarbone area.

"Worst surgery I had, pain-wise," Cobb said.

Part of that was because Cobb had pancreatitis complications. But Cobb understood what Stamkos went through, spending a week in the hospital after the procedure, which involved breaking/removing his top rib. Cobb noted his situation was different; the Rays shut him down at the end of the season, as opposed to Stamkos working his way back to return in the playoffs, and was in the Lightning dressing room after the 5-4 overtime victory.

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"He's got something to play for," Cobb said. "I'd be doing the same thing."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.