Islanders' season ends as Hurricanes take Game 6 in overtime
The Islanders will have all offseason to think about this one. About how, after 40 minutes of aggressive play, they fell into a defensive shell while trying to protect a one-goal lead, which ultimately cost them their season.
“Sometimes when you’re just trying to hold on, it doesn’t work well,” Mathew Barzal said in the stunned and quiet losers’ dressing room. “The first two periods we were playing aggressive, and the third period we just kind of sat back and tried to clog it up and make it hard. Sometimes when you do that, it can go the other way.”
It did. Paul Stastny scored on a sharp-angle shot from the right six minutes into overtime after defenseman Adam Pelech could not clear the puck from the defensive zone as the Hurricanes won the deciding Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, 2-1, on Friday night before a raucous but ultimately disappointed sellout crowd at UBS Arena.
The Metropolitan Division champion Hurricanes kept consistent pressure on a brilliant Ilya Sorokin (39 saves) in the third period, outshooting the wild-card Islanders 19-5 and finally tying the score as Sebastian Aho swatted in a rebound at the crease at 9:24.
“We had a couple of chances to go up by more than one,” coach Lane Lambert said. “I thought in the third period, we failed to execute. We had too many turnovers. They came hard and we needed to make more plays. I certainly felt like we could have been more on our toes. I didn’t think we established our forecheck in the third period.”
The Hurricanes also won Game 2 in overtime, 4-3, in Raleigh.
Carolina turned to goalie Frederik Andersen for the first time in the series and he responded with 33 saves.
“It is super-frustrating and it stings right now because I thought for the majority of the game, we played a really good hockey game,” said Bo Horvat, who couldn’t lift a backhanded shot off his rush to the crease early in overtime. “We knew they were going to come and push. For the first 40 minutes, we were taking it to them. We kind of sat back a little too much.
“At the end of the day, it was so close every game. There were the two games that were 5-1 [the Islanders’ Game 3 win] and 5-2 [the Hurricanes’ Game 4 win]. Every other one was just a fight right to the end.”
Perhaps the Islanders’ biggest offseason question now becomes whether to retain president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who has guided the franchise to four playoff berths in five seasons.
But after the Islanders gambled heavily by keeping a core group together that went to back-to-back NHL semifinals in 2020 and 2021 but missed the playoffs last season, a first-round elimination goes down as a bitter disappointment.
“Every time you have a season end like this, it stings,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “This group has been together for a while and we’ve had success and we’ve gotten close. That fire inside, you want to get there. You want to win.
“Yeah, maybe it wasn’t pretty all season. But at the end of the day, we came together. We found a way and we gave ourselves a really good chance this series. That’s a great team over there, too, with a lot of playoff experience. We just came up short.”
The Islanders, needing the victory, came out with perhaps their best-played period of the series. It certainly was their best first period, and they took a 1-0 lead on Cal Clutterbuck’s short-side wrist shot from the right circle off a bad Hurricanes line change at 9:21.
Sorokin kept the Hurricanes from quickly responding with a gorgeous toe save on defenseman Brady Skjei’s rebound try from the low slot at 10:57. Andersen had opened the game with a glove save on Hudson Fasching after he got open low for a feed from Zach Parise.
The Islanders then took 17 second-period shots without being able to extend their lead.
“One-goal leads in the playoffs are just not safe,” Barzal said. “Get that second one, it kind of gives everyone a little breathing room.
Friday marked the Islanders’ first elimination game in their new home.
“This series could have gone either way,’’ Barzal said, “so it’s unfortunate that we’re sitting here right now.”