RALEIGH, N.C. — Midway through the second period of Game 3, Islanders winger Jordan Eberle broke into the Hurricanes’ zone and set up the onrushing Nick Leddy for a breakaway attempt that was foiled by Carolina goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who got his left skate on the puck.
The puck lay on the ice for a moment, a few inches from the goal line, with McElhinney unable to cover it up. Leddy’s momentum had taken him out of the play, and Eberle didn’t see the loose puck until it was too late.
“McElhinney made a great save,’’ Eberle recalled Thursday, a day after the Islanders’ 5-2 loss. “And I didn’t pick it up till the last second that it was still sitting there. I tried to put it in.’’
If this had been the first round, when Eberle was scoring a goal in every game the Islanders played against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he probably would have spotted the puck and tapped it in to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. But that was then and this is now. Things have changed considerably.
“That’s how hockey is,’’ Eberle said when asked why his goal-scoring has dried up in the second round. “You’re not going to score every time — and we’ve had chances. I mean, we could be up 2-1 in this series.
“It’s not like we’re far off. Things are tight. It’s not a huge difference. We’ve just got to find a way to give it that extra — I don’t know how to say it — 5 percent, where you’re finishing chances, where you’re getting pucks out and not giving them a chance to come back and score. Those little things and we’ll be fine.’’
Right now, the Islanders are not fine. They trail their best-of-seven series three games to none and are on the brink of elimination, with Game 4 on Friday night in Raleigh.
The Islanders generally play tight, low-scoring games, but in this series, they’ve been a little too low-scoring, with the Isles managing only three goals in three games. Eberle, who had four goals — one in each game — in the first-round sweep of the Penguins, has none against the Hurricanes, but he has two assists.
Eberle, like his teammates, tried to be positive Thursday. The team is generating chances, he kept saying over and over. The Islanders need to find a way to capitalize on those chances.
“Usually, everyone says when you’re not scoring goals, get guys to the net, get pucks to the net. That’s kind of the typical answer,’’ Eberle said. “But in my mind, like I said, we’ve created a lot of chances, we just haven’t scored. Their goalies have done a good job.
“It comes down to finishing your chance,’’ he said. “If you get a chance, you’ve got to score.’’