BROOKLYN — All that was needed was 1:05 to send New York Islanders fans home unhappy.
The Carolina Hurricanes recorded a pair of goals in the opening moments of the third period to spark a 2-1 victory over the Islanders to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference second round. A wrist shot from Warren Foegele and a tip-in from Nino Niederreiter just 48 seconds apart ensured the Hurricanes swept the opening two games in Brooklyn.
“There’s an unseen hand that sometimes turns up and that’s what happened. They had two shifts, good on them,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We had a lot of chances to pull away in the game, they hung in there and we weren’t able to it. They had 48 seconds of pretty good hockey.”
The two Hurricanes goals came on just 18 shots as the Islanders defense did well to stymie their opponents for most of the game, including a first period where Carolina was held to just three shots.
It’s the first time that Islanders goalie Robin Lehner surrendered more than one goal since Game 1 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“In reality, we were the better team but they scored one more than us,” Lehner said. “We’re down two, now we have to go to their rink and do the same.”
The Islanders were holding onto a 1-0 lead delivered by Mathew Barzal, who scored his first career postseason goal off a fortunate bounce with 6:43 left in the first to finally beat the red-hot Petr Mrazek, who has only allowed a single goal to the Islanders in four-plus periods of play.
On the power play and to the left of the Carolina goalie’s net, Barzal went to pass toward Josh Bailey on the opposite post but the pass was deflected by Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin and into the back of the net.
Mrazek though was forced to leave the game due to injury with 13:13 remaining in the second period, increasing the Islanders’ chances to get its sputtering offense into motion. The Hurricanes were forced to call in back-up netminder Curtis McElhinney, who made his first appearance in goal in 22 games.
The Islanders would continue their offensive woes in the second round as golden opportunities continued to elude the host’s grasp while McElhinney turned aside all 16 shots faced.
“Their goaltender did a real good job,” Trotz said. “We got a couple pucks in behind him and they didn’t go across the line.”
In the final seconds of the second period, the puck bounced off the skates of an onrushing Devon Toews, off the pads of McElhinney and into the net, but the officials ruled it to be a kicked puck and no goal.
“It’s a funny rule because he’s below the goal line and trying to put it to the front of the net,” Trotz said. “It’s the right call.”
After the Hurricanes’ surge into the lead in the third period, the Islanders came within millimeters on multiple occasions to tie things back up.
Josh Bailey hit a post on the power play with 9:28 left, Jordan Eberle rang a breakaway chance off the crossbar just two minutes later.
“Maybe a couple could’ve went our way and didn’t but that’s hockey sometimes,” Bailey said. “Just keep going, stick with it, and hopefully, a couple of them go in for us.”
In the final minutes with the net pulled, Ryan Pulock hit the crossbar on a slapshot from the point before Anders Lee spun the rebound off the side of the net.
“We had some chances… rang a couple off the post,” Trotz said. “That’s the cruel reality sometimes when you play really well and you don’t get the result.”
Now the Islanders are off to Carolina for Game 3 on Wednesday night as their backs continue to inch closer to the wall.
“I mean, it’s 2-0, it’s not 4-0,” Lehner said. “If we win the next game, everything tightens up again. We still have to fix some things in our game.”
“We’re fine,” Trotz added. “We don’t win a series in two games, but we dug ourselves a hole.”