Don’t look now, but the Islanders are in trouble with a capital “T”. (But I do have to say, to a man, the entire team is still exuding confidence).
Having lost Game 1 — 1-0 in overtime — to the Hurricanes Friday night at Barclays Center, the Islanders looked to bounce back in a big way Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn when the teams reconvened for Game 2.
Unfortunately, the Isles were left shaking their heads after the Hurricanes captured the second game of the series by a score of 2-1 and took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven-series. Both of Carolina’s goals came within the first 1:05 of the third period. Otherwise, this game was all Islanders.
With a full two days off before Game 3 gets underway in Carolina on Wednesday night May 1st, it was imperative for the Islanders to have a strong showing in Game 2. And for the most part, they got it.
“I thought we played a pretty complete game,” said Head Coach Barry Trotz. “We had a lot of chances to pull away and they just hung in there. They had 48 good seconds.”
Right out of the gate the Islanders brought it to the Hurricanes.
On the first shift, Cal Clutterbuck delivered an absolutely thunderous hit to Trevor van Riemsdyk behind Carolina’s net, knocking van Riemsdyk out of the game with an upper-body injury. (TVR was clutching his shoulder the whole time as he left the ice).
From there, the Hurricanes briefly took control of the game as they attempted to avenge the loss of one of their best defensemen. However, the home team survived the attack and countered in emphatic fashion.
For the duration of the period, it was all Islanders. And they punctuated it by breaking Petr Mrazek’s impressive shutout streak. (The ‘Canes netminder hadn’t allowed a goal in his last 135 minutes and four seconds of play; the second-longest such streak in Carolina’s franchise history. And that includes the time the team spent in Hartford as the Whalers. The only longer streak in team history was authored by current NHL Networks’ analyst, Kevin Weekes, who reached 143 minutes and 55 seconds of shutout hockey during the 2002 playoffs).
On the shutout-breaking goal, Mathew Barzal, who was moved up to the first power-play unit in place of Brock Nelson — was attempting to pass the puck through Carolina’s crease to Josh Bailey, when the puck deflected off Jaccob Slavin’s stick and darted past Mrazek for the Isles’ first goal of the game — and the series. (It was the Islanders’ first power-play goal since their Game 2 victory against Pittsburgh.)
Onto the second period and the Islanders continued to take it to the Hurricanes, that is, until the referees got involved.
A slashing call assessed to Jordan Eberle drew complaints from the crowd and the Isles’ bench. But that was nothing compared to the reaction when Scott Mayfield was also called for a slashing penalty just 34 seconds later — giving Carolina a 5-on-3 power-play for 1:26.
Thankfully, the penalty-killing abilities of Thomas Hickey, Casey Cizikas and Adam Pelech were too much for the ‘Canes, as the trio of Isles defenders stopped Carolina dead in its’ tracks.
And just as the game was starting to settle back down, the visitors’ fortunes changed from bad to worse when Mrazek was forced to leave the game with an injured right leg; forcing backup netminder, Curtis McElhinney into action.
(Remember, the Hurricanes hadn’t been practicing over the past week because of their tight playoff schedule, so McElhinney was as cold as could be.)
Apparently, Mrazek injured his leg on a shot from Leo Komarov earlier in the second period and it had finally become too much for him to handle. It was announced moments later that, just like Trevor van Riemsdyk, he too was done for the game.
From there the Isles and ‘Canes settled into a defensive battle that didn’t see many offensive threats made by either side. That is, until Islanders’ rookie, Devon Toews appeared to score from behind Carolina’s net with seconds remaining in the period.
But the referees quickly conferred and declared Toews had kicked the puck into the net, so therefore it was ruled “no-goal.” At that point, the fed up Islanders’ fans rained down boos on the officials; even chanting “RE-PLAY” at them — to no avail.
When the teams took the ice for the third period, the Islanders were in complete control of the game. But that was about to change.
17 seconds into the period ‘Canes winger, Warren Foegele blew past Scott Mayfield on the off-wing and fired a perfect shot to beat Lehner high, blocker-side; tying the game at 1.
With the game now tied and the Islanders looking to regroup, the Hurricanes added another quick strike, as former-Islanders’ prospect, Nino Niederreiter managed to tip Teuvo Teravainen’s shot for his first goal of the playoffs — 2-1 Carolina.
“We’ve got to realize that every moment counts,” reflected Ryan Pulock after the game. “Maybe we weren’t that sharp to start the third. We had some pretty good chances to score, but we were millimeters away.”
The “millimeters away” that Pulock was referring to were the three separate posts and crossbars the Islanders hit in that fateful third period, including one by Jordan Eberle late in the period on the power-play.
Eberle was at point-blank range and fired the puck off the crossbar, but many people felt it had gone in; seemingly tying the score at 2.
So, the officials stopped play to check on things, but not until after the Islanders had continued to swarm around Carolina’s net. By stopping play, the referees inadvertently ended the Isles’ best chance of tying the game.
And when the call came back of “no-goal,” you could feel the air being let out of the fans in attendance. Although, to their credit, the Islanders continued to play hard until the final seconds of the game had come off the clock.
In fact, with under minute to go, Ryan Pulock also sent one off the post. And it diverted straight to Anders Lee, who had a wide open net. However, Lee couldn’t corral the puck and his backhand shot went off the side of the net.
From there it was just a formality as the final seconds drained away and so did the Islanders’ home-ice advantage.
Now the team heads to Carolina for Games 3 and 4, searching for a way to prevent the Hurricanes from increasing their lead in the series. It won’t be easy, but the Isles have the talent necessary to get the job done. But they must make the series 1-2 and then 2-2 before the ‘Canes can make it 3-0 or worse.
And as Barry Trotz said after the game, “we’ll go in there (Carolina) and play our game.”
NOTES AND COMMENTS
1) With the Isles’ AHL affiliate (The Bridgeport Sound Tigers) being knocked out of the Calder Cup Playoffs, many have tried to speculate which players could/should be called up to help out the Big League club as part of its’ Black Aces.
Prior to Game 2, Islanders’ Head Coach, Barry Trotz, addressed the topic by saying, “right now the plan is to beat the Hurricanes. Obviously they’ll have a couple days and like all teams, they will complete their exit meetings, I’m sure. And then we will talk with Lou and we’ll see what we’re going to do from there.”
Of course, everybody is going to be paying close attention to see if Josh Ho-Sang is one of the recalls. But, for right now, only time will tell.
2) Having failed to tally a point in the Isles’ Game 2 loss to Carolina, Josh “Ace” Bailey remains one point away from tying his playoff career-high of five, which he set during the 2014-15 post-season.
3) Devon Toews is quietly having a very solid post-season. With his 21 minutes and three seconds of ice time in Game 2, Toews solidified his standing among the Top-3 rookies in the playoffs in terms of TOI/per game.
And that means the Isles’ coaching staff is trusting the freshman blueliner to perform in the toughest of situations.
4) Having surrendered more than a single goal in the Isles’ Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes, goalie Robin Lehner saw his streak of four consecutive one-goal games snapped in brutal fashion as the ‘Canes scored two goals in the first 1:05 of the third period.
5) Carolina lost three players to injury during the game and that could potentially comeback to haunt them as the series shifts to the South. Trevor van Riemsdyk, Petr Mrazek and Saku Maenalanen all left the game with injuries and did not return, which makes their win all the more impressive. But it also means they could be in for quite the challenge if any combination of those players is set for an extended absence.
WHAT THEY SAID
Barry Trotz: “We had some chances and rang a couple off the post. That’s the cruel reality sometimes. We just didn’t get the result.”
Devon Toews: “We play shift-by-shift and we’re just going to play our game. We’re going to keep grinding away.”
Josh Bailey: “At this point, our focus for Game 3 is just finding a way to win.”
Robin Lehner: “We were the better team today, it’s unfortunate we didn’t get one back. We’re not going to put excuses on the crossbar. The reality is, they’ve scored three goals in two games. I’ve got to make another save and we’ve got to put more pucks in the net.”