The New York Islanders got off to an energetic start as they sought to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. But as happens so often in elimination games where the trailing team is down by multiple games in the series, things steadily decayed to a point that soon left no doubt.
So it happened in Game 4, with Carolina notching its first-ever sweep by dispatching the Islanders, 5-2 in Raleigh.
After sweeping their first-round opponent, the Isles are out in four. A most unexpected season comes to an unexpected swift end.
Were There Lineup Mysteries?
Before the game, Barry Trotz talked coyly of perhaps making lineup changes, even indicating the choice of goaltender was up in the air. Normally such shenanigans are pointless, but when down 3-0 I suppose any shock or trickery is welcome.
In any case, the only lineup change was Michael Dal Colle, making his playoff debut as a replacement for Cal Clutterbuck. Frankly, with how Clutterbuck looked at the end of Game 2 I was shocked he played Game 3 and was physical throughout. But you wonder if that caught up to him.
However, the lines themselves were different. All different. In addition to Dal Colle slotting in for Clutterbuck, the left wings on the other three lines were all shook up:
Andrew Gross of Newsday noted that Clutterbuck briefly appeared in warmups before leaving, and Luca Sbisa(!) also took some line rushes with Ryan Pulock.
(Thankfully, that was as close as Sbisa got.)
First Period: Uncle Leo Spoils Good Start
The Islanders got exactly the start they wanted, creating initial pressure and drawing a power play thanks to a high-stick by Andrei Svechnikov to Anders Lee’s face as Lee drove the net. The Isles power play was active and moved the puck well, and it was a mid-play adjustment by Mathew Barzal that helped them break through.
Barzal rushed from his sideboard spot to the front of the net as Devon Toews shot from the point, and Barzal, who had narrowly missed the net on a similar play just moments before, slipped the rebound in to give the Isles a 1-0 lead just 2:30 into the game.
But the Yang of Leo Komarov struck, and hard, when he took a bad open-ice crosschecking penalty on Justin Williams. The Hurricanes converted on the ensuing power play with the help of Adam Pelech, who inadvertently snapped a rebound past Lehner while battling for the puck just above the crease.
It was the Hurricanes’ first official “shot” on goal, and it tied the game at 1-1 at 4:44 after the Isles had registered the game’s first six shots.
There was an amusing coincidental pair of penalties behind the play when Scott Mayfield objected to a heavy, behind-ish check by Jordan Martinook, and the two jawed on their way to the bench. Mayfield eventually hooked Martinook’s knee to pull him down, but Matrinook’s pirouette was so breathtaking that the refs called him for embellishment.
Barzal had a great chance to get the Isles back in the lead when he chipped to himself around Dougie Hamilton at the Isles blueline to create a two-on-one with Jordan Eberle. But Jaccob Slavin played it perfectly, and when Barzal elected to shoot instead of feed his sniping winger Slavin deflected the shot out of play.
After that, the Islanders had a few more chances but the more dangerous ones were by the Hurricanes, with Nino Niederreiter hitting the post on a backhand in front and being stopped by a good shoulder save from Robin Lehner, who also robbed Svechnikov at the doorstep.
Second Period: Things Fall Apart
The second period started off as a horrific disaster that sealed the Islanders’ fate. The Hurricanes tweaked their lines a bit, which may have helped, but there’s no excuse to how this critical period began.
The Isles gave up two scoring chances quickly, then had a maddening, mind-boggling mix of poor decisions behind and around their net to allow the Hurricanes to grab a 2-1 lead at 2:11. Adam Pelech, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Pulock all played a part in failing to clear, and failing to go anywhere smart with the puck. This, when Pelech and Pulock in particular needed a breather after being out there following an icing.
The result was an easy tap-in for Teuvo Teravainen and the tip of a dagger in the Islanders’ torso.
Just a minute later, the Hurricanes fourth line again won its matchup with the Islanders fourth line and Greg McKegg pounced on a loose rebound that Lehner thought he had, and Matt Martin did not locate.
That made it 3-1 at 3:17, and Thomas Greiss was called in from the players’ tunnel to take over for Lehner.
the thing I’m honestly most surprised by in this series is how rattled by deficits this team got. They obviously don’t have the skill to turn things on a dime but this is the third instance of a multiple goal snowball or lack of late offensive control. I did not see that coming.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) May 4, 2019
The Islanders got the next break, with a dubious penalty against McKegg when his stick got up on Eberle after they both battled with each other.
But they wasted that power play, and the dagger was driven in deeper. The first official shot on goal Greiss faced was a nifty Jordan Staal pass from behind the net that Justin Williams batted in out of mid-air. It came after a missed high-stick suffered by Thomas Hickey, but that was all too late to matter.
At 8:51 it was 4-1, the rout was on, and NBC’s announcer John Forslund no longer had to try to withhold his excitement. (Not that I blame his natural instincts, but still; it’s annoying to have the league/NBC wipe out your local coverage after the first round only to have the opponent’s guy call Every. Single. Play.)
The Hurricanes got the next power play, with Mayfield called for molesting Svechnikov during a battle for the puck, though Mayfield claimed the rookie was hanging on to him to draw the call.
The Islanders managed to kill that one to sslow the bleeding. Devon Toews then hit the post off the rush on a late-period power play, which yielded a couple of juicy setups but no conversion. Then Casey Cizikas took an uncharacteristic hooking penalty.
Everything was off the rails.
I haven’t seen the Islanders this discombobulated nor defeated all season. But, when desperation yields to utter defeat as a season and/or playoff series nears its inevitable and unsatisfying end, that is often how things play out.
Which is to say: I wouldn’t read “character” or anything into the way this all went down. This is a fairly common if depressing look to the team that is having its last breaths choked out of it.
Third Period: You’re Required to Play It
And to their credit, down by three games and three goals with 20 minutes to go, the Islanders did not roll over.
They killed off another Komarov penalty and even generated shorthanded chances. They kept pressure on and...saw Curtis McElhinney rob Josh Bailey point-blank with the glove. That’s just how it all was going.
Barzal is basically on every other shift at this point, which yeah, he should be.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) May 4, 2019
Looks like Trotz asked Greiss to see if Lehner wanted to finish the game in goal. Very nice idea.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 4, 2019
Svechnikov finished the Hurricanes’ scoring on a couterattack rush two-on-one.
Brock Nelson completed the scoring on a shot from distance that rolled through McElhinney, the kind of goal you’d have thought would have happened more often against the Carolina backup, and perhaps a reminder that they’ll want Petr Mrazek back and healthy for the conference final.
Post-Script: Thank You
There is now, sadly, plenty of time in the days and weeks ahead to digest the season, debate what could have been and more importantly what should come next.
But for the moment: Sincere thanks to all of you riding along with us all season. I think the preseason survey attests to the fact just about none of us expected anything like what transpired over the past eight months. This team finishing fifth overall in the league after the offseason it had?
So in many ways it was a refreshing ride, almost playing with house money as we got to know the joy of Trotz. (And the flaws, too. But everyone has them.)
It’s always easier to keep a community like this going when things are going well with the team. Of course, we know all too well that it’s the down times where we seem to need that community most.
So thanks for coming round and sharing your thoughts and humor. Keep doing it as we sort through the aftermath. We’ll be here all summer as we prepare to jump on this ride all over again come October.