The New York Islanders weren't going to go out without a fight. And they may not be going out at all if they can keep up the momentum they established Friday night.
Facing a 2-0 deficit heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, New York bounced back with a 5-3 win to cut into the Tampa Bay Lightning's series lead. The Islanders will now look to even the series in Sunday's Game 4.
New York's win also guaranteed that neither conference final series will be a sweep. In the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars have a 2-1 lead over the Vegas Golden Knights after they notched a 3-2 overtime victory in Thursday's Game 3.
Here's a look at the full conference finals picture, followed by predictions for how both series will end.
Conference Finals Picture
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
Game 1: Tampa Bay won 8-2
Game 2: Tampa Bay won 2-1
Game 3: New York won 5-3
Game 4: Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Game 5: Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 7 (if necessary): Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars
Game 1: Dallas won 1-0
Game 2: Vegas won 3-0
Game 3: Dallas won 3-2 (OT)
Game 4: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Game 5: Monday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6 (if necessary): Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 7 (if necessary): Friday at 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Conference Finals Predictions
Lightning Bounce Back, Win in 5 Games
After winning the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning dropped Game 3. But they were still in the game late, and the contest could have gone either way (like in Game 2, when Nikita Kucherov scored to lift Tampa Bay with 8.8 seconds remaining).
This time, things went in the Islanders' favor. Brock Nelson scored the go-ahead goal with three minutes, 25 seconds to go to hand the Lightning their first loss of the series. However, it may also be the only loss they suffer during the conference final.
Tampa Bay is 12-4 in the postseason, and it has yet to lose consecutive games. In Game 3, it was without Brayden Point (unspecified injury) and Alex Killorn (suspended for boarding). The latter will be back for Game 4, and if Point—the postseason's leading points scorer among active players—also returns, the Lightning should take a 3-1 series lead.
"We handed [Game 3] to them," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "It was gift-wrapped. It's on us. They didn't do anything that I thought we didn't know was coming or put us under pressure. We made some bad decisions."
Expect the Lightning to make better decisions in Game 4, bouncing back as they have done following their previous losses in these playoffs. Tampa Bay continued to play well offensively without Point and Killorn, tallying three goals Friday.
The Lightning will win the series in five games, ending the Islanders' impressive postseason run and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2015.
Golden Knights Show Resilience, Win in 7 Games
The Golden Knights have only trailed in a series twice this postseason—both times during the Western Conference Final. They lost Game 1, and after evening the series, they are down 2-1 after losing in overtime in Game 3.
Although Vegas is trailing, it may have acquired some valuable information about Dallas from the teams' first three meetings.
"I think what we've learned is Dallas is a very good defensive team and plays well within their structure, and it's a lot easier for them to play within that when the game is tied or they have the lead," Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer said, according to NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "For two of the three games that's been the case."
In all three games, the team that's scored first has won. So fast starts could continue to be crucial for the rest of this series.
At some point, the Golden Knights' balanced scoring attack should start putting up more offense, like it did earlier this postseason. Expect that to start in Game 4, when Vegas will again bounce back to even the series. And although Dallas will keep making things competitive, the Golden Knights will pull out a seven-game series victory for the second consecutive round.
That will lead to Vegas reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in the franchise's first three seasons.