Josh Bailey had scored one goal in March and April combined — none since March 14 — so few fans expected much of him when he took the ice for the first time in May for Game 3 of the Islanders’ playoff series against the Lightning.
Then the veteran forward scored the first goal Tuesday night to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the first period.
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Then he scored another in the third period to give them a 3-2 lead.
Then he came very close to scoring a third, but Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop made a nifty glove save on him.
But afterward, Bailey was not much interested in discussing his big personal night, not after the Islanders lost, 5-4, in overtime in a game in which they allowed goals in the final minutes of both the first and third periods.
“It’s always nice [to score],” he said. “It would certainly feel a lot better if we got the win. That’s really all that matters at this point.”
It was Bailey’s first time back after missing Games 1 and 2 of the series with an upper-body injury he suffered early in Game 6 against the Panthers.
“He was flying,” captain John Tavares said. “You could see some of those days [off] were real good for him. He was able to get healthy and get some rest. He was probably our best forward out there. He made a lot happen.”
Bailey totaled five shots on goal in 17:46 of ice time.
Did he think that hat-trick attempt was ticketed for the net?
“Yeah, if he wasn’t standing there,” Bailey said. But seriously . . . “Yeah, he’s a great goalie. There’s no secret about that. Two great goalies. I don’t really look back at that. We should have found a way to seal it before it got to overtime. It’s unfortunate.”
Did Bailey at least feel optimistic about his ability to contribute further in the series?
“Yeah, I’ve always felt that way,” he said. “But it’s about the team. It’s never been about one guy. It’s all of us pulling together here. We have such a tight-knit group that really cares about each other.”
After the morning skate, Bailey talked about how eager he was to get back on the ice. He probably could not have handled watching another game on television.
“During the game I think I’m pretty calm, and then you watch on TV and you find yourself even more nervous and anxious,” he said in the morning.
Bailey said the difference between TV and real life is particularly dramatic in overtime games.
“Time just goes by; you just keep playing hockey and you almost don’t realize the situation,” he said before Game 3. Not so on TV. “It’ll be a little easier to be involved in it.”
One other thing Bailey learned by watching is that as nerve-wracking as the experience might be, it is far less complicated than actually being on the ice.
“I tell you what,” he said, “it’s a lot easier game on TV.”
Game 3 proved to be yet another painful reminder of that.