RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Robin Lehner sat in the locker room, surrounded by reporters and taking the blame for the New York Islanders’ latest playoff loss. His lament: a turnover behind the net that led to the go-ahead goal for the Carolina Hurricanes.
”I own that one,” the goaltender said.
Yet, that play offered a glimpse at how the Islanders have found themselves facing a massive hole in a playoff series filled with close games. It’s been a mistake here, a missed opportunity there, and an inability to come up with a needed goal to wrestle some lasting momentum from the surging Hurricanes. Now they’re down 3-0 in their second-round Eastern Conference playoff series following Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss, a game blown open by Carolina’s two empty-net goals in the final minute.
Before those scores, neither team had led by more than a goal in the series. Here the Islanders are, though, needing to win Game 4 on Friday night in Raleigh – where the Hurricanes are 4-0 in the postseason – just to push the series back north.
”We can’t let the frustration set in,” said winger Josh Bailey, who had a goal and an assist. ”I think the series could easily be the other way around. I think that’s how close our teams are and how these games have gone. It hurts thinking about it that way, but at the same time we’re right in it.”
The Islanders certainly have reason to be frustrated, and a little shaken.
They rode a defensive-minded approach to near the top of the Metropolitan Division, then swept Pittsburgh in the first round to earn an extended break while the Hurricanes fought their way past the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in a seven-game series.
But they lost Game 1 at home 1-0 in overtime on Jordan Staal‘s winner, then had two shots hit the post in the third period against backup Carolina goaltender Curtis McElhinney only to end up with a 2-1 loss in Game 2.
This time, there were a couple of opportunistic goals that both went Carolina’s way, too.
”That’s kind of what these games are,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”One team makes that (mistake). … It’s just a battle of, really, will and sticking to your game and trying to create that one gap, and that’s what happened.”
The first came when Carolina’s Justin Faulk came out of the penalty box behind everyone and took a long feed from Warren Foegele – he gloved it near the blue line and dropped it to the ice – to score on a 1-on-1 chance against Lehner.
Then there was Lehner’s turnover when he tried to clear a puck by sending it along the boards from behind the net and out of trouble. Carolina’s Sebastian Aho managed to knock the puck down with his stick, then fed a cutting Justin Williams to beat Lehner for the 3-2 lead midway through the third.
”I screwed up,” Lehner said.
Told that Lehner had taken responsibility for the loss in the locker room, Islanders coach Barry Trotz turned the focus away from the goaltender.
”I appreciate him doing that, but we win or lose as a team,” Trotz said. ”There’s other plays during a game that he’s bailed us out many times.”
Now the Islanders have only their second three-game losing streak of the season – the other came in November – at the worst possible time.
”They score a lot of scrambly goals, if you want to say,” Lehner said. ”That’s because they work hard and they put the puck to the net and they attack the net very well. … Again, it’s been tight games that come down to small, small mistakes. That’s tough.”
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