If the Islanders haven’t done so already, they should take a look in a mirror. (Warning: they might find what they see somewhat perturbing.)
For if they do look at their reflection, they will see a team dressed in red and black — named the Carolina Hurricanes.
After jumping back in shock, the Isles will think about this and realize it’s not as shocking as one would think. For you see, the Islanders and Hurricanes are two sides of the same coin. And even in everywhere.
Both teams far exceeded expectations this season. Neither was projected to make the playoffs. Nor were they seen as capable of knocking off the only two teams to win the Stanley Cup in the previous three seasons. (Pittsburgh and Washington).
Oh, and in case you needed anymore similarities, both had new head coaches, as well as a mix of veterans and rookies who were seen to have potential. But that potential wasn’t supposed to be realized for at least a few more years.
It is those similarities that make their second-round match up in the Stanley Cup playoffs so intriguing.
And they were on full display Friday night as the Islanders lost Game 1 to the Hurricanes in overtime, by a score of 1-0. The winner netted from an off-angle shot by Jordan Staal.
The Hurricanes jumped out to a fast start, registering the first four shots on goal and, more importantly, held the home team without a shot for the first five-plus minutes.
“I think the first five minutes we were in a bit of a lull,” said Matt Martin. “Then we started getting our crowd into it and we started to take over and we really fed off them for most of the night. When you have nine, 10 days off, you really need to use your crowd to keep that energy level up, because sometimes it’s hard to be off that long and kind of keep that pace of play up. They were great tonight and now we need them for the next one.”
However, once the Islanders finally broke through for a shot on goal, they took it to the ‘Canes. And no skater did more in the scoreless first period than Josh “Ace” Bailey, who had two Grade “A” scoring chances. Unfortunately, Carolina goalie, Petr Mrazek was up to the task and stopped Bailey in his tracks both times.
That trend continued into the second period as both Mrazek and Robin Lehner stood tall in the face of adversity.
“He (Mzarek) made some big saves in the beginning of the game,” explained Lehner. “And I felt like I made some big saves in the middle of the game. I thought it was a good defensive game for both teams.”
The first of those “big saves” came on a breakaway attempt by Greg McKegg, with 9:55 left in the period. But Lehner stretched out the left pad as far as it would go and made the stop at the last second; drawing an ovation from the home crowd.
Not to be outdone, but roughly seven minutes later, Mrazek stopped not one, but TWO scoring chances — one each from Adam Pelech and Anders Lee — in a goalmouth scramble. After the ensuing face-off, Mathew Barzal managed to put the puck in, but it was ruled “no-goal” thanks to a questionable goalie interference penalty against Lee.
And just as it looked like the momentum was swinging Carolina’s way, Jordan Staal was escorted to the penalty box for a face-off violation; ending the ‘Canes power-play and giving the Isles yet another opportunity with the man-advantage.
The power-play carried over into the third period for the Islanders but it was not to be as the team’s man-advantage units continued to struggle. (While they moved the puck well, they still couldn’t find the back of the net; an ongoing theme throughout the regular and post-seasons).
From there, both teams took multiple penalties, but neither managed to break through for the elusive first goal. However, the seriousness of the penalties was briefly disrupted by a light-hearted moment when Ryan Pulock blasted a shot off the side of the cage and the puck got stuck in the netting; causing the goal-horn to momentarily go off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a goal.
Eventually, the combined efforts of Lehner and Mrazek were too much for the skaters to overcome and the game went to overtime.
Sadly, for the Islanders, the overtime was brief and unsuccessful. With 4:04 gone by, Jordan Staal capitalized on an errant back pass by Cal Clutterbuck and fired a sharp angle shot past Lehner for the game-winning goal.
To no surprise, Isles’ goalie, Robin Lehner was not too pleased with the outcome. “They won on a shit bounce,” Lehner said after the game. “It is what it is.”
NOTES AND COMMENTS
1) This game was the first time all season that Isles Vezina Finalist goalie, Robin Lehner faced Carolina. And he did not disappoint.
In the Isles’ four regular season games against the Hurricanes, they compiled a 3-1-0 record on the back of Thomas Greiss’ stellar goaltending.
So, seeing Lehner in net must have been a relief for the ‘Canes. Or, then again, given his stellar performance, maybe not.
2) Head Coach Barry Trotz was named a Jack Adams finalist prior to the game and in true Trotz fashion he declined to talk about it. He only wanted to talk about the team.
But a quick poll of several media members suggests Trotz has a substantial amount of support to take home the prestigious award.
3) Barclays Center will never replace Nassau Coliseum in the hearts of Islanders fans, but for Game 1, the Isles Faithful turned their Brooklyn home into The Coliseum West.
4) Thanks to the sage, Leo Scaglione Jr. for pointing out that the Islanders have never won a playoff game in regulation at Barclays Center. The last time they went to the playoffs, the final three games all went beyond regulation. This game was the fourth consecutive to go to the extra period.
WHAT THEY SAID
Robin Lehner: “I mean, I think we played well. I think they’re small details, obviously, that we can work on. You want to score a little bit more and I think we just need to get a little bit more traffic in front of the net and just keep shooting. I think we try to complicate things a little bit and over pass it sometimes. But, for the first game back, I think we played well, for the first game back after 10 days. I really do. I was happy with the energy we brought.”
Barry Trotz: “I think both teams play very similar in terms of using their benches and how we come up on both sides. So yeah they’re good.”
From reader and die-hard Islanders fan, Peter Koutros — a Brooklyn native: “I believe they have a very gritty team that’s played tough all season, with fantastic goalkeeping. I think they can beat anyone right now.”