RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s easy to focus on one play, one mistake that can turn a hockey game. It’s easy to lament the missed opportunities and odd bounces that have turned three evenly played matches into a heavily-tilted playoff series.
But the reality is, the Hurricanes are outplaying the Islanders because they are getting the timely goals and they are making fewer mistakes. The reality is, the Islanders’ season is on the brink of ending.
“It’s a tight series,” Islanders goalie Robin Lehner said. “A really tight series. They’ve gotten that extra goal, the same way we had against Pittsburgh. We won that series, 4-0, but every game was a one-goal game, pretty much.”
Lehner’s giveaway on his attempted clear led to Justin Williams’ winner as the Hurricanes won, 5-2, with two empty-net goals in Game 3 of their second-round series on Wednesday night before a thunderous sell-out crowd of 19,066 at PNC Arena.
“I own it,” Lehner said of his mistake.
The Hurricanes can complete the sweep in Game 4 on Friday night.
“It’s a situation we don’t really want to be in but I think we’re going to do good,” right wing Leo Komarov said. “We still believe we have a good chance here. It’s going to be tough.”
“Our backs are against the wall and we’ve got to come with our best effort,” Islanders coached Barry Trotz added. “If we don’t, we won’t earn the right to play. This group has been resilient all year. Everybody has doubted this group in every way, shape or form. They don’t doubt it in the room and I don’t doubt them.”
Only four teams in NHL history have rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs, the last being the Kings in 2014 in their run to the Stanley Cup. The Islanders did it in 1975 against the Penguins.
Williams, dubbed, “Mr. Game 7,” for his past playoff heroics, scored the winner at 10:15 of the third period after Lehner attempted a clear around the boards that was intercepted by Sebastian Aho, who fed Williams. Teuvo Teravainen added an empty-netter with 57.1 seconds left and Aho closed the scoring with 4.8 seconds remaining.
“That’s by no means on him,” said left wing Josh Bailey, who tied the game at 2 from the high slot after Tom Kuhnhackl kept the puck in at the Hurricanes’ blue line at 14:13 of the second period. “A world-class player like Aho, he takes a swipe at it and knocks it out of the air. That’s hockey sometimes.”
Lehner, who said on Tuesday the Islanders would go into Carolina and get a win, “no ifs and buts,” stopped 33 shots. Curtis McElhinney, the Carolina starter with No. 1 goalie Petr Mrazek unavailable because of a lower-body injury suffered in Game 2, made 28 saves.
McElhinney, who turns 36 on May 23, became the oldest goalie in NHL history to make his first playoff start.
Trotz said the Islanders did not do enough to make it difficult for McElhinney.
The Islanders lost Game 1 at Barclays Center, 1-0, in overtime, then allowed two goals within 48 seconds early in the third period as the Hurricanes won Game 2, 2-1, in Brooklyn.
“We’ve just got to win one game,” said captain Anders Lee, adding the Islanders believe they’ve played the Hurricanes evenly for the most part. “Yeah, the way it looks at times, that’s the way it feels.”
“There were a couple of chances that didn’t go our way,” center Brock Nelson added. “It’s frustrating, for sure.”
Teuvo Teravainen, left open at the right post, tipped in defenseman Jaccob Slavin’s feed to make it 1-0 at 6:41 of the first period.
But Islanders rookie defenseman Devon Toews, with his first career NHL playoff goal, tied it at 1-1 on the power play at 8:20 of the first with a blue-line shot that snuck past McElhinney with Lee setting a screen.
Justin Faulk, coming out of the penalty box and using his right glove to catch Warren Foegele’s long flip from the defensive zone, beat Lehner with a backhand to make it 2-1 at 11:58 of the second period as the goalie missed on a poke check.