The Islanders are done with NHL hockey for about three weeks. Saturday night's final game before the Olympic break felt a lot more like a last gasp than an intermission, though.
The Islanders rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period to move within a goal, thanks to a cavalcade of Avalanche penalties, but got no closer in a 5-2 loss. It sent them to the break with only three points in their last eight games (1-6-1) and only 22 games left after the layoff to finish off what appears to be another non-playoff season.
"You could see [the frustration] while I was sitting out, and again tonight," said Travis Hamonic, who returned after missing 12 games with a concussion. "We're finding ways to have things go wrong. I thought we played a pretty good game, to be honest with you, and then we're just behind the eight-ball when we can't score early."
The Islanders had a 10-1 shot advantage in the first 7:37 of the game, firing pucks on Jean-Sébastien Giguere and pressing the play on every shift. But Colorado scored first, an easy goal for rookie Nathan MacKinnon after Eric Boulton shoved Gabriel Landeskog into Evgeni Nabokov, leaving the puck and an open side.
Thomas Vanek appeared to jam in a goal to tie the score early in the second, only to have it waved off by referee Dean Morton because he had blown the whistle when he lost sight of the puck.
Within nine minutes, the Islanders were down 3-0 after two goals by Matt Duchene, John Tavares' teammate for Team Canada in Sochi in the near future. One of them was a one-on-three rush.
So the Islanders were down three goals after two periods and headed for as deflating a loss as any in the last two months.
"We come out like we were shot out of a cannon," coach Jack Capuano said. "We couldn't find a goal."
Patrick Roy's Avalanche tried to help them midway through the third period. The Isles already had a 19-second five-on-three when Max Talbot was whistled for a faceoff violation, putting three Avs in the penalty box. Tavares scored his first goal in nine games on the lengthy two-man advantage, a goal that snapped the Isles' power-play futility streak at 0-for-33.
Erik Johnson's wicked slash on Frans Nielsen 52 seconds later gave the Isles another five-on-three, and Lubomir Visnovsky blasted a shot past Giguere to make it 3-2 with 7:46 to go.
Brock Nelson barely missed a wraparound try with less than two minutes left, but the Avalanche got two empty-net goals -- the last awarded to Paul Stastny when Vanek threw his stick across the ice -- and the Islanders dropped to 8-14-8 at the Coliseum.
The Islanders still are mathematically alive in the playoff race, but the reality of the situation will sink in during these next weeks, with players scattered around the globe and no games to distract them.
"We've got to get better," Kyle Okposo said. "Everybody has to get better."
"We all need to look in the mirror," Nabokov said. "The margin for error is getting smaller and smaller."