Remember the Islanders team that played a strong, confident game against the division-leading L.A. Kings on Thursday? Or the Islanders that gutted out a shootout win in Columbus against a goalie seeing everything? Or even the Islanders that curb-stomped a league punching bag last Sunday?
Well, the Islanders didn't remember them. Not tonight. Tonight, they were sloppy and slow and stagnant and scared against a team (and a goalie!) playing the second of a back-to-back, and made the Carolina Hurricanes look like the defending Stanley Cup champions on a night they were honoring their title team from 10 years ago.
Steve Bernier, packed away in Carbon Freeze since before Christmas, was inserted into the line-up in place of Cal Clutterbuck who was ill. By the end of the game, Cal wouldn't be the only one feeling gross.
The Hurricanes controlled the majority of the first period, showing no ill effects from their game the previous night (or from the 15-minute pre-game 10th anniversary party). Jaroslav Halak saved the Islanders' bacon a number of times, mostly on scrambling plays in front of the net. The Islanders couldn't generate anything even resembling a forecheck and were hounded out of breakouts by multiple backcheckers. With about three minutes to go, Riley Nash's slap shot passed between Casey Cizikas' legs and over Halak's shoulder to give Carolina a 1-0 lead.
The Wheels. Where did they go?
The same crappy, sloppy play continued in the second, without the added benefit of timely saves. The Hurricanes skated rings around the Islanders for the first eight minutes or so and built a 4-0 lead on a bunch of relatively easy goals.
Noah Hanifin sent a long wrist shot past Halak for one. (It was originally credited to Andrej Nestrasil, who might have tipped it. Or Johnny Boychuk did. Who cares?). A few minutes later, Kris Versteeg took advantage of four Islanders puck-watching to tap in a corner pass from Phillip Di Guiseppe. Before viewers could process the 3-0 lead, Nestrasil scored (for real this time) on a 2-on-1 with... someone. It doesn't matter.
After sleeping through most of the game, the Islanders decided to show brief signs of life. John Tavares kept his scoring streak alive by zipping a behind-the-net pass from Kyle Okposo past Cam Ward to get the Islanders on the board. A power play gift led to another: Frans Nielsen gained the zone with speed and found an open Tavares, who hit Nick Leddy in the slot. Leddy's fourth goal of the season made the score 4-2 and started some dreams of a comeback.
Eddie Lack entered the game for Ward, who seemed to be hurt after making a sliding split just before Leddy scored. The teams skated 4-on-4 after Travis Hamonic and Joakim Nordstrom threw hands for a few seconds, then Ryan Strome took a hooking penalty, giving Carolina a 4-on-3.
That's when The Victor Rask Show started. After fanning on his first shot, he grabbed a rebound that dribbled off of Halak's pads to score his first of the game. Then with 0.2 seconds left on the clock - and the Islanders clearly looking to just get the hell out of there - Rask swept in a shot from Di Giuseppe past a visibly pissed-off Halak. Join the club, Jaro.
Thomas Greiss relieved Halak for the third period, which mercifully came to a fast-moving end. It only featured one measly goal. Cizikas chipped into the Carolina zone and dished to Matt Martin who scored on a wrister past Lack. The final was 6-3, but it felt more like, nah, 6-3 is fine.
Teams lose. Sometimes they lose ugly. The timing and the opponent and the visuals make this very, very difficult to digest. To make matters even more infuriating, the Islanders's next game is a matinee versus the Red Wings, a team that so far this season has made them look like they're skating with cement boots.
And to think: you could have spent a far more enjoyable evening with a different man in red.