Josh Bailey was well aware of his struggles in Games 1 and 2 along with linemates Brock Nelson and Nikolay Kulemin. Jack Capuano had Steve Bernier waiting in the wings but stayed with three of his longer-serving vets.
That line had a better game Sunday night than it had in the previous two, and then there was the payoff in overtime. Bailey and Nelson outworked two Panthers below the goal line, Nelson fed Thomas Hickey cutting down the slot and the Islanders had their Game 3 win, thanks in part to the line that had been the most deficient in the two games in Florida.
“I thought they had a good game against Florida’s top six,” Capuano said. “Hopefully they can break through here.”
The work they did in OT is what Capuano wants from a line with three of his most responsible forwards: Nothing fancy, just lots of digging and hustling. Nelson’s line didn’t match against Florida’s seemingly unstoppable second line of Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen, which had a hand in all three Panthers goals, so that might have helped as well.
“When we’re cycling and working down low against this team, we seem to have success,” Frans Nielsen noted after the game. “I think we know that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”
Ice wasn’t bad after all
A few Islanders were concerned after skating on puddly, soft ice during Sunday’s morning skate, but those same players believe the Barclays Center rink held up well through 72-plus minutes in Game 3. “We know there’s going to be bounces, but it didn’t break down much over the game,” Hickey said.
There was boxing scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, so Game 4 Wednesday night likely will be the same wait-and-see process after the morning skate.