ST. LOUIS — The Islanders’ long, winding road around North America came to an abrupt and deflating end smack in the middle of the continent.
Their 4-3 loss to the Blues on Saturday night at Scottrade Center, combined with the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 overtime victory over the Hurricanes, left them one point out in the race for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.
That was the bad news. The better, wide-angle view was that they endured a franchise-record nine straight road games with a 5-3-1 record and remain squarely in the postseason picture.
“Tonight would have been a huge two points, and it’s obviously disappointing with that,” Anders Lee said. “But if you look at the big picture and look at our record through this stretch and what we’ve done, I think you’d be pretty inclined to take it if we knew what it was going to be at the beginning of all this.”
The Islanders (32-24-11) were on the last leg of an odyssey that totaled nearly 11,000 miles necessitated by Barclays Center hosting the circus and ACC men’s basketball tournament. The game against the Hurricanes at Barclays on Monday night will be the Islanders’ first there since Feb. 19 — and their fourth time zone in their past four games.
Unlike some recent lopsided losses, the Islanders emerged from this one generally happy with the way they played but frustrated by a few lapses that cost them.
“Good game; we played well,” said coach Doug Weight, who lamented “a couple of bonehead decisions in the neutral zone” as well as missed offensive chances.
“I felt like we were the better team,” he said. “That’s a good team over there that we did some good things against.”
The Blues led 1-0 after one period on a power-play goal by Vladimir Tarasenko, who beat Thomas Greiss with one of his trademark whistling wrist shots.
It appeared the Islanders had tied it during the first of a double-minor against Dmitrij Jaskin. Andrew Ladd blasted a one-timer from the circle that bounced in off goalie Carter Hutton. But the Blues wisely challenged on the grounds that the play was offside. It was, and the score was erased.
“You try not to let it get to you, but sometimes it does,” Lee said of the momentum-killer, “especially when we’re on the road here and we need everything we can get.”
The Islanders continued to pressure the Blues with no payoff, and at 4:58 of the second, Alex Steen flipped the puck past Greiss to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.
The Islanders broke through when Joshua Ho-Sang got his first NHL assist on a feed to Brock Nelson, who ripped a snap shot past Hutton from the left circle at 11:37. The second assist went to Scott Mayfield, who was playing in his hometown for the first time.
But Tarasenko made it 3-1 with another world-class wrist shot and Patrik Berglund slipped a backhand past Greiss to make it 4-1 at 18:06 of the second period.
J-F Berube replaced Greiss in goal to start the third period — the third time in the nine road games that Greiss had been pulled in favor of Berube — and the Islanders made a game of it.
Hutton got his glove on a shot by Anthony Beauvillier but was unable to secure it, making it 4-2 at 2:11.
With the Islanders on a power play, Weight pulled Berube for a six-on-four skating edge and Nick Leddy took advantage, scoring on a long slap shot with 1:29 left to make it 4-3.
“I thought we had some good chances and just ran out of time,” John Tavares said.
The trick now is to keep playing well and finding standings points, lest time run out on the season itself.