The Islanders had gone through the first two games of the conference finals with only one goal from a top-six forward, Jordan Eberle’s Game 1 power play goal standing alone.
But in a league where, as Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper often says, “Your best players have to be your best players,” the Islanders needed their best goal-scorers to, well, score goals.
And so, second-line center Brock Nelson scored the winner at 16:25 of the third period in Friday’s 5-3 Islanders victory over the Lightning in Game 3 on a set-up from Anthony Beauvillier after second-line winger Beauvillier had scored the 3-1 goal in the second period off a nifty feed from Nelson.
Beauvillier, who recorded 18 goals in 68 games on the season, leads the team with nine playoff goals. Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who recorded an empty-netter, each have eight goals in the postseason.
Cooper had said he would be “mildly shocked” if Alex Killorn were suspended for the late hit from behind that sent Nelson’s face into the glass 5:55 into the first period of Game 2.
But the Lightning coach was less judgmental and expressive after the winger was indeed set down for one game by the Department of Player Safety for the blow that drew a five-minute major and game misconduct.
“It’s pointless now. What’s done is done,” Cooper said hours before Game 3. “I think there have been a lot of hits that have been similar, and there’s a fine line.
“I think when you look at any hit, you’re fighting for your guy. But if you were to reverse the roles and say, ‘Well, what if that were your guy getting hit?’ Then I can see where they’re coming from. So the decision has been made and so it’s pointless for me to comment on how I feel about it.”
Barry Trotz did not campaign for Killorn’s suspension for the hit that sidelined Nelson for 25 game-time minutes bridging the first two periods, but the Islanders coach believes justice was done in this instance.
“I thought Killorn would get one [game],” Trotz said. “It looks very fair.”
The coach, though, was not exactly thrilled that the league did not take any action whatsoever against Barclay Goodrow for his unpenalized cross check that sent Nelson’s head into the glass again almost immediately after No. 29’s return to the ice midway through the second period.
“I knew the league would look at Goodrow, and they look at it frame by frame, so I’m good with whatever they decide. I’m probably a little disappointed, but at the same time I have a lot of respect for Player Safety and what they look at. They probably looked at that a thousand times.”
Casey Cizikas missed the game with an unidentified injury while Andrew Ladd was a healthy scratch. Derick Brassard and Michael Dal Colle were inserted into the lineup in their place.
“I had an inclination [Thursday] that Casey might not be available,” Trotz said. “We’ll see where it is. We have another day here.”