They could have broken.
When Tampa’s Tyler Johnson tipped home a seeing-eye shot past Semyon Varlamov — whether you believe it was above or below the bar — to tie the game at three with 7:56 to go in regulation, you got that sick feeling in your stomach.
That could have been in it for the Islanders. The game. The series (especially after the stunning loss 48 hours earlier). And quite possibly the magical ride the playoff bubble has been so far.
It wasn’t. Instead, the Isles showed the determination they have throughout bubble play and came away victorious 5-3 in an entertaining affair.
“We’ve come too far,” said Cal Clutterbuck, whose opening goal got the Isles the lead in the first period. “I don’t think packing it in is part of this team.”
Last night’s game was everything Isles fans have come to witness about this team over the years, both the good and the bad. They were outplayed most of the night despite getting the two-goal advantage and blowing a third period lead, but they capitalized on their opportunities, got timely saves, and most importantly….found a way to win.
BROCK NELSON!!! #Isles pic.twitter.com/BXEtUXse2N
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) September 12, 2020
However you determine it, that’s major progress. Years ago, the Islanders most certainly lose a game like that.
That’s not the case anymore. There wasn’t any wavering or putting up the white flag.
It’s because this group is confident in one another and know they can take the opposition’s best punch (they took some heavy right hands from the Bolts all game) only to dish it right back. It’s because of the “bend but don’t break” mantra that head coach Barry Trotz has instilled in this organization ever since he arrived.
“This group is special with resiliency,” Trotz told reporters after the win. “These guys are staying resilient and finding ways.”
Now the Islanders are in this series (really they have been ever since the puck dropped for game two). And after last night, they’ve got the momentum on their side with a chance to get the series tied tomorrow afternoon. And, as we’ve seen, momentum can go a LONG way in a series.
The Isles were almost on the wrong end of it last round when they were up 3-1 against Philadelphia, only to see the Flyers win games five and six to force a do-or-die game seven.
“This is our fourth series, not our third,” Trotz also noted. “We’ve had to battle through double overtime losses, our first game getting into this overtime and then, our first game getting into this [series in Edmonton] losing the way we did. That says a lot about our group to be able to park it and focus on the moment.”
Last night could have been it for the Isles. They could have fully cracked. But they stuck with it and now it’s a whole new ballgame against a very good Lightning squad.
“It’s a brotherhood here for the Islanders and you really saw that tonight,” J.G. Pageau said. ‘Everyone stepping up for each other and playing until the end for each other.”
Bend but don’t break.
On to Game Four.
Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_