Rod Brind’Amour held his forefinger so it almost touched his thumb, indicating how close the difference is between making or missing the playoffs.
“It’s all about the players and their commitment,” the Hurricanes’ coach told Newsday before his playoff-bound squad handed the eliminated Islanders their fifth straight loss, 5-2, on Sunday afternoon at UBS Arena. The final margin was exaggerated by two empty-net goals.
It allowed the Hurricanes, headed to the playoffs for a fourth straight season, to move four points ahead of the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers have three games remaining and Carolina has two.
“The margins are so tight,” Brind’Amour said. “You look at our team and the Islanders, they’ve been a good team forever. What was the difference? You fall off it by a little bit, each guy, and all of a sudden, it’s a big gap. These four years, we’ve been able to just avoid having that little dip. It’s overall consistency. The teams are too good.”
The Hurricanes (52-20-8) will face the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden with a chance to clinch first place. Carolina, already without goalie Frederik Andersen (lower body), lost Sunday’s starter, Antti Ranta (17 saves), at 12:57 of the second period after he hurt himself stretching to make a save three minutes earlier.
The Islanders (35-34-10), who got 29 saves from Semyon Varlamov, will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
“You’d like to be playing for something more than what we’re playing for at the moment,” forward Matt Martin said. “But we’ve still got the jersey on every day and we represent this franchise and play with pride. I don’t think we did a very good job of that a few games prior, but we played a pretty good game today. We just didn’t get the result.
“You want to win. You want to feel good and be happy and have a smile. This season didn’t go the way anyone expected it to. That’s disappointing. It’s not a whole lot of fun playing below expectations.”
It is the Islanders’ first playoff miss under president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz. In their first season, the Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round before being swept by the Hurricanes. Then the Islanders advanced to the NHL semifinals in back-to-back seasons, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning both times.
“I don’t think the confidence has been chipped at,” Martin said. “We had higher expectations for ourselves than what we represented this season. But we still have a lot of confidence in this group and what we were able to accomplish the two years prior. We’re going to have a long offseason to wear this one and be motivated and get ready for next season.
“[The Hurricanes] are definitely one of the top teams in the league and we just went toe-to-toe with them. It’s such a fine line, winning and losing in this league.”
Max Domi found room to get open at the crease and scored to make it 3-2 at 5:40 of the third period.
The Hurricanes had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period on Derek Stepan’s unassisted goal at 2:25 off defenseman Noah Dobson’s turnover and rookie Seth Jarvis’ power-play goal at 8:09. Martin fed Ross Johnston to bring the Islanders within 2-1 at 18:25 of the first period and defenseman Ryan Pulock’s power-play goal tied it at 2 at 15:27 of the second period.
“That’s a good lineup,” Brind’Amour said of the Islanders. “Then you see where they’re at and it shouldn’t be like that. It’s probably that little much out of every guy. It leads to a big deal.”