(The Sports Xchange) - Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano were in agreement on one thing Tuesday night: Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals at Barclays Center was as entertaining as playoff ice hockey gets.
As for how it ended, well, they will likely disagree on that for the rest of the series and beyond.
Lightning center Brian Boyle leveled Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey at the blue line seconds before he scored the game-winning goal 2:48 into overtime as Tampa Bay edged New York 5-4 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday in Brooklyn.
“I think if you watched tonight, (you‘d) be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining hockey game,” Cooper said. “It had everything. It had goals. It had saves. It had hits. It had overtime. It had all the drama.”
Boyle and Hickey were at the center of the drama -- which included last-second game-tying goals by the Lightning at the end of the first and third periods -- long before the final sequencet.
Boyle exchanged shoves with Islanders defenseman Travis Harmonic during warm-ups after Boyle sauntered over the New York logo at center ice.
Early in the second period, Hickey knocked down Lightning left winger Jonathan Drouin with a hard and high hit. Seconds later, three penalties were assessed after the teams skirmished in front of the Islanders net.
Replays of the sequence leading to the game-winning goal appeared to show the 6-foot-7 Boyle lift his elbow before hitting Hickey, who is listed at 6 feet.
Hickey fell to the ice and was slow to get up as Boyle corralled the puck and began the Lightning’s odd-man rush.
Hickey had just picked up his stick and begun to skate when Boyle put back a rebound of a shot by Victor Hedman.
“Got a fortunate bounce,” Boyle said.
The Lightning celebrated while Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (36 saves) and right winger Cal Clutterbuck skated off the ice, glaring at Tampa Bay players the entire time.
“Everybody got their money’s worth tonight,” Capuano said. “It’s just too bad it had to end the way it did.”
The normally placid Capuano uttered some variation of the latter phrase six times during his postgame news conference, during which he said he watched the play at least five times on video and believed it warranted a suspension for Boyle.
“It’s a direct shot to the head,” Capuano said. “He’s probably going to get suspended for a game. The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that.”
Capuano then invoked the suspensions levied at the Washington Capitals’ Brooks Orpik (three games) and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang (one game) for high hits delivered during the Eastern Conference’s other semi-final.
“Brooks Orpik and Kristopher Letang, those guys play hard -- they’re not looking to hurt anybody, it happens,” Capuano said. “I don’t think Boyle’s looking to hurt anybody. Maybe he was.”
Boyle, speaking barely above a whisper to a crowd of more than two dozen reporters at his locker, said he did not intend to hurt Hickey and did not think it was worth a suspension.
“I’ve never had anything like that in my career,” Boyle said. “But at this point, I don’t really have any control.”
Not surprisingly, Cooper -- who earned his law degree before entering coaching -- came to the defense of Boyle and disagreed with Capuano’s assessment.
“The problem is with Boyle, he’s 6-foot-7, so when he goes up against guys -- I‘m not sure how tall Hickey (is), he’s definitely not six foot -- those are tough situations,” Cooper said.
As for the severity of Boyle’s hit in a game that featured 78 hits?
”I don’t have the stat sheet in front of me, but how many hits were in that game? 70? 80?“ Cooper asked. ”I would say there were 15 hits harder than the one Boyle was involved in. And one that was really a hard hit.
“To me, that was a mild hit compared to some of the banging that went on in that hockey game.”
Josh Bailey scored twice for the Islanders while Nick Leddy scored a tying goal in the second period and Clutterbuck scored the go-ahead goal with 8:37 remaining in the third.
Ben Bishop made 35 saves for the Lightning, who forced overtime on Nikita Kucherov’s extra-attacker goal with 38.4 seconds left. The first assist on the tally went to Drouin.
Ryan Callahan scored in the waning seconds of the first period while Hedman and Vladislav Namestnikov also scored for the Lightning. Namestnikov’s goal came just 58 seconds after Bailey put the Islanders ahead early in the third period.
Editing by Peter Rutherford