DENVER — Often this season, the Islanders have not played well. Almost as often, they just haven’t gotten the breaks. This loss to the NHL-leading Avalanche was the latter.
"The bounces didn’t end up going our way," Kyle Palmieri said. "It’s not the time of year for moral victories. It just didn’t bounce our way tonight."
The Islanders matched the Avalanche all night but a crucial call went against them and they ended their five-game road trip with a heartbreaking, 5-3 loss on Tuesday at Ball Arena.
Defenseman Sebastian Aho’s apparent third-period goal was waved off after the puck hovered on the goal line and Andre Burakovsky scored the winner 59 seconds later on a shot from the right circle at 12:48.
"We thought it was in," coach Barry Trotz said. "They looked at it and said it was not in. It was actually our stick [Anders Lee] that probably prevented it from going in. It just needed another inch. There should have been a penalty ... He [Aho] was hauled down. If it wasn’t a goal, we should have been on a power play."
"That was deflating for a couple of seconds," said Zach Parise, who had two primary assists. "You’ve got to turn the page and play. We were pretty sure that was going to be counted a goal. So a tough break for us to not come out of that game with a point because I thought we played a solid game and deserved better."
The Islanders (20-22-8), who received 38 saves from Ilya Sorokin in his 10th start in 11 games, went 2-2-1 on the trip and are 17 points out of a playoff spot. Darcy Kuemper stopped 28 shots for the Avalanche (40-10-4), who are 23-3-2 at home and have won four straight.
"Sorokin made huge saves for us," said defenseman Ryan Pulock, who tied the game at 1 at 10:03 of the first period. "I thought, overall, we had good jump and had some good looks, especially at the end, that could have tied the game."
That included Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s shot from the low slot that went over the crossbar with Sorokin pulled for an extra skater before defenseman Erik Johnson’s empty-netter clinched it with 43 seconds remaining.
Puck-moving defenseman Devon Toews had a goal to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead at 3:54 of the second period. He also added two secondary assists and was named the game’s first star in his first game against his former team.
The Islanders were without top-line center Mathew Barzal (lower body) and defenseman Zdeno Chara (upper body) for the second straight game. Trotz said both were unlikely to return Thursday night against the Canucks at UBS Arena.
Gabriel Landeskog started the Avalanche’s three-goal third period, banking in a backhander off Sorokin to tie it at 3 at 4:43 on the power play. The Islanders thought Aho had regained the lead at 11:49 as he skated in from the left and squirted the puck past Kuemper’s short side.
Pageau’s slap shot from below the right circle 45 seconds after Toews’ goal tied it at 2. Palmieri, with his fifth goal in eight games, put the Islanders ahead 3-2 at 12:23 of the second period.
Nathan MacKinnon rifled a shot through a screen to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead at 3:23 of the first period.
"I thought we handled them pretty well for the most part tonight but we didn’t get the result," Trotz said. "If you were looking at last year, we would have scored. Pageau would have scored. The Sebastian Aho goal would have ended up being in. Leesy’s stick would have knocked it in rather than kept it from going over the line."