A weird Islanders season came to an end with a weird final goal that eliminated the Isles after six games, sending the Carolina Hurricanes to the second round for the fifth season in a row.
Paul Stastny put the nail in the 2022-23 Islanders’ coffin, six minutes into overtime, with a low-angle heave Ilya Sorokin thought was going wide. Instead, it went in off the right pad of the Islanders goalie, a cruel ending for a sure Vezina finalist who is the main reason the Islanders were still playing on April 28.
The Islanders carried a narrow 1-0 lead into the third period, and again could be pleased with their even strength play up to that point. But they were too cautious in the third period, eventually gave up the equalizer to series villain Sebastian Aho The Bloodied, and paid the price by subjecting their fate to the whims of hockey’s overtime gods.
Like the rest of this Isles season, it’s somehow both disappointing and about what they deserve. The roster construction, the in-game approach and the ups and downs of the season had all the makings of a team that made the playoffs on the final day, pushed a #2 seed and division winner to a place of some discomfort, all to be eliminated before the calendar turned to May.
First Period: Early Clutterbuck goal sets the script
The Islanders started with good energy, and generated a few good looks on offense. A strong forecheck by J-G Pageau and Hudson Fasching led to Pageau feeding Zach Parise, who found Fasching down low for a chance in tight on Frederik Andersen. Kyle Palmieri looped around the slot for a chance that could be seen as promising with the deceptive potential of his backhand, but it was low and harmless. Brock Nelson did well to carve a lane to the high slot to get his shot off, but it didn’t get through traffic.
The Hurricanes put one off the post and caused a brief, hairy scramble around Ilya Sorokin, but that was about it for both sides up to the first TV timeout.
The first goal came on a Hurricanes mistake and a Cal Clutterbuck shot we’ve seen many times in his Islanders career. After the Canes rushed to make a change after clearing the puck from their zone against the Identity Line, Casey Cizikas moved it cross ice to Ryan Pulock, who one-touched to Clutterbuck at the red line with acres of ice on the right wing side.
In this scenario, you know there are always only two possible outcomes: either Clutterbuck rings it off the glass and out (more common), or he snipes one of the top corners for a goal (less common, but still a threat). This time, thankfully, it was the latter — and he zipped it upstairs near side over Andersen’s shoulder.
Not long after, Fasching pulled up in the slot and drew a tripping call on Brent Burns. But after a few shot attempts, Anders Lee was called for knocking Brett Pecse’s stick out of his hands, putting them at 4-on-4 after just 35 seconds of power play.
Pulock danced around for a bit on the 4-on-4, but nothing came of it. The next interesting moment was when Barzal chipped a puck into the high slot that Anders Lee tracked down by diving and chipping over Andersen. The Canes scrambled to block the bouncing puck from the net, and after a couple of Barzal whacks, they ultimately freezed it under the snow-angeling Andersen’s back.
The Islanders unnecessarily gave the Canes a grat chance to equalize late in the period: Pulock spun with the puck in his own zone, right into a turnover and three Hurricanes. Seth Jarvis was stopped won two shots in tight by Sorokin, but in the process Clutterbuck crosschecked Sebastian Aho The Evil in the kidney at the top of the crease, putting the Isles shorthanded for the final 1:40 of the period.
Second Period: Status quo
After killing the rest of that power play and an few exchanges of zone entries, Sorokin made a nicely focused glove save on a tricky mid-slot deflection by Jesper Fast. He then had to make an even tougher stop through traffic, when Burns sent one from the point after Jaccob [sic] Slavin pinched and bounced one low off his pad.
Palmieri was set up with a nice chance, and drawn penalty, after the Isles defense was elusive in evading a half-hearted Carolina forecheck. A Pulock stretch pass found Palmieri, who used the ref as a screen and drew a hold by Brady Skjei. Palmieri fought off the hold to get a decent look from the far side of Andersen, but he shot wide.
The ensuing Islanders power play was refreshingly not terrible, creating a good high-slot chance for Brock Nelson, which Andersen gloved.
The Hurricanes amped up the pressure on a shift where Parise’s stick was broken. The closest was Jesperi Kotkanaemi right on the doorstep, where he hit the crossbar. Sorokin ended the heat by intentionally deflecting a save over the glass with his blocker.
The Islanders pushed back, with Nelson and Parise creating chances on consecutive shifts — Parise trying for the zero-angle, shot off the goalie mask, but it redirected off the crossbar instead.
After a scary shift from the Canes, Aho The Blessed drew an inadvertent interference call on Aho The Disgraced, who was coming out of the Isles zone. The Isles power play that followed, naturally, produced nothing — but you could see a few subtle bits of progress on zone entries and on trying some new interior passing.
Before the end of the period, Andersen turned the puck over right to Clutterbuck, who made a move, but Andersen made amends to keep it 1-0. With most of the game played at even strength, the Islanders were actually leading in shots, 28-18.
Third Period: Isles finally break
That shot differential would change quickly, however. The Isles began the pivotal period with some bad clears and icings, and some scrambles and outside shots that required good work from Sorokin.
After one big save, Cizikas led a 2-on-1 counterattack, and Andersen played the angle well to make the save. But through the first 10 minutes, the Canes had the clear majority of chances. While the Isles were playing carefully, they were also playing with fire thinking they could only hold on and count on the occasional counterattack.
And sure enough, it cost them. A clean Carolina entry and a broken play in the right wing circle led to a high shot headed wide but alertly batted down by the glove of Aho The Terrible, who then swatted it in the open net.
With just over half the period to go, it was tied at 1-1.
That’s how it stayed through the rest of the period, as each team forgot that playing for a standings point or a shootout doesn’t actually get you anything in the playoffs.
Overtime: That’s a wrap
The Isles started OT on the front foot. Horvat had a nice rush up the middle, but was stopped on the backhand, and Nelson’s hopeful wraparound attempt faced a double-fortress of Andersen’s pad and a defenseman’s stick.
But it all ended just six minutes in, on a hopeful play, where two of the most critical Islanders committed uncharacteristic mistakes. Adam Pelech flubbed his pass out of the zone, allowing Derek Stepan to stretch and just barely keep it in. Stepan sent it down to the corner for Stastny, who sent his low-angle shot in off Sorokin’s far pad.
Sorokin turned to the right, anticipating that the puck had gone harmlessly by to the left wing as so many similar heaves do. But it had caught just enough of the inside of his pad, crossing the line and taking the Islanders season with it.