Coach’s challenge turning point for Islanders in Game 3 OT win

Greg Wyshynski
New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey (14) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal during overtime in Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Florida Panthers, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in New York. The Islanders won 4-3. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

BROOKLYN, NY – Thomas Hickey’s shot found its way through Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo at 12:31 of overtime, as the New York Islanders captured Game 3 of their division semifinal, 3-2, to go up 2-games-to-1.

But that goal doesn’t matter if the Islanders don’t rally from a 2-0 deficit against the Panthers. And that rally doesn’t happen if the Islanders don’t win a coach’s challenge in the second period that wiped away an Aaron Ekblad goal that would have made it 3-0, a challenge that gave them new life.

“There’s so much talk about that offside rule, but that was an incredible boost. You could feel it in the building when they called ‘no goal’ and I think it gave us extra life,” said Hickey.

“That was probably the turning point in the game. As stupid as it sounds.”

At 4:08 of the second, it appeared that the Panthers were running away with this thing with a 3-0 lead, as Ekblad sniped one over the shoulder of Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss. But appearances can be deceiving in the era of the coach’s challenge.

It was ruled the Jonathan Huderdeau didn’t have control of the puck as he crossed the blue line before it completely entered the zone. 

The Islanders scored a power-play goal moments later; the Panthers led 3-1, and the Islanders rallied again to knot it at 3-3 and eventually send the game to overtime.

According to Islanders coach Jack Capuano, it was video coach Matt Bertani who made the call that the team should challenge the call. “That was the turning point. He radioed in right away. Down by two is a lot different than down by three," said Capuano.

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said after the game that “his guys” said it was offside “a little bit” during the challenge.

“They challenged. They won the challenge,” he said.

As the coach’s challenge continues to be scrutinized, Gallant supports it. “I think they’re good. For me, it’s a good call. I’ve enjoyed them this year,” he said.

But there’s no doubt that it gave the Islanders a boost in Game 3. “We had our ups and downs. We didn’t get discouraged at all,” said Hickey.

It started down for the Islanders and Griess, who admitted after the game he wasn’t feeling right at the game’s start.

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead on Smith’s fourth of the playoffs, as he spun the puck over Griess’s stick at 2:25.

Then came the second period, and it was [expletive] wild.

Barkov made it 2-0 at 1:11 of the second after Smith rung one off the glass behind Greiss, tucking home the puck moments after a Panthers’ power play ended.

At 4:08, it appeared that the Panthers were running away with this thing with a 3-0 lead as Ekblad sniped one over the shoulder of Greiss, who made 36 saves in the win. But appearances can be deceiving in the era of the coach’s challenge.

After the Panthers’ third goal was taken down on the successful coach’s challenge, and the Islanders had momentum again. An Alex Petrovic boarding penalty followed by a Jussi Jokinen holding call led to a 5-on-3 power play, with Ryan Pulock scoring his first playoff goal to cut it to 2-1 at 7:23.

The Panthers killed off the second penalty, and then got it right back, as Nick Bjugstad kicked the puck off the post and the knocked home the rebound with his stick for the 3-1 lead.

But the Islanders would answer back in a big way. Shane Prince scored his first of the playoffs on a nice past Roberto Luongo to cut it to 3-2. Then the period turned on this Dmitry Kulikov clipping penalty on Matt Martin:

Now, the rule book states that clipping is “the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.” Since Martin’s knees aren’t located on his thighs, you can see why Kulikov was steamed. Gallant said after the game that he didn't see the play nor a replay of it.

Frans Nielsen scored at 16:55 on that power play to tie the game at 3-3.

Overtime was a back-and-forth affair, with Greiss making a few key saves, including a few against Jaromir Jagr’s line.

But it was over in an instant when Brock Nelson found Hickey for the eventual game-winner.

“Brock … that’s an unbelievable play. I just tried to get it off my stick as quickly as I could,” said Hickey.

For the Islanders defenseman, it was his second huge overtime goal of the month, having also scored in the Islanders’ playoff clinching game at the Washington Capitals.

“He’s a heck of a player. He’s got a knack for finding the right spots,” said defenseman Travis Hamonic. “Couldn’t be happier for him. Plays his heart out every single game.”

Game 4 is Wednesday night in Brooklyn, which saw its first Stanley Cup Playoff game as the Islanders' new home -- and its first victory.

--

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY