Islanders go down with a fight, but who'll be out before next season?
It’s OK to give the Islanders credit for going down fighting, because they sure did that on Friday night at UBS Arena.
The team that battled back from an awful January to make the playoffs on the last day of the regular season nearly battled back from an awful start to their first-round playoff series against the Hurricanes to make things very interesting.
But in the wake of a 2-1 overtime loss to Carolina that ended the series in six games, it also is OK to mention the failures that landed them here — and what it means for their future as an on-ice brotherhood.
Short term: After two excellent periods, they went into a shell in the third period, getting outshot 19-5 and allowing the Hurricanes to tie it and force overtime.
Then Carolina won it six minutes into the extra period when Adam Pelech turned over the puck and Paul Stastny made the Islanders pay with a hard-angle shot that bounced in off goaltender Ilya Sorokin.
It was a gut punch that the Islanders brought upon themselves when they took their skates off the gas pedal after the second period.
“One-goal leads in the playoffs are just not safe,” Mathew Barzal said. “Get that second one and it kind of gives everyone a little breathing room.”
Long term: The Islanders are not young, and the Stanley Cup window for their veteran core is rapidly closing, if it did not slam shut on Friday.
After two runs to the NHL semifinals in 2020 and ’21, followed by a fluky season undone largely by forces beyond their control in 2021-22, this was supposed to be a fairer test, one that might lead to another deep run.
Instead, the Islanders did not make it out of the first round, which will set off a wave of important decisions this offseason.
“This group’s been on both sides of it before, but it’s tough,” Kyle Palmieri said. “It’s going to sting no matter what . . . That was a hell of a battle, that series. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to find a way to push it to seven.”
Said Matt Martin, “We just couldn’t find the second goal . . . It’s definitely a tough one to swallow.”
Martin is one of many key Islanders over age 30 who does not know how many more opportunities he will have.
“The longer you’re in this league, the more you realize how hard it is to win,” he said. “It [stinks], but we’ll wear this one for a little while and get back on the horse and get ready for next year.”
There are many questions about what next year will look like for the franchise, from top to bottom.
Bo Horvat, one of the players certain to be back, given his recent signing of a big contract, said, “I’m proud to be a part of this group, and I can’t wait ’til next year.”
The UBS Arena crowd got off to a strong start in noise-making, and the teams got off to a fast-paced start on the ice.
That is as it should be for a Game 6, of course. But it was good to see the new barn in action hosting a third game in its first postseason appearance.
The fans were even more excited when the Islanders struck first, on a goal by Cal Clutterbuck at 9:21 of the first period.
The Islanders began to put tremendous pressure on Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen in the middle of the second period. Zach Parise hit the crossbar in one frantic stretch.
But Sebastian Aho tied it for the Hurricanes at 9:24 of the third when he stopped a puck headed wide of the net with his glove and flipped the loose puck past Sorokin.
Then came the overtime, and time was up for the Islanders. They lost two overtime games in the series, so it could have gone either way. But it didn’t.
They got a break to make the playoffs in the first place when the Penguins blew a chance to knock them out in the season’s final week.
But they could not take advantage of it, and now they face a long offseason and an uncertain future.