Reflection may come with time but, for now, there is only the pain of playoff elimination for the Islanders.
Mathew Barzal plans to feed off that emotion in the future.
“It’s unfortunate because you never know when you’re going to be back in this position,” Barzal said late Friday night in Raleigh, North Carolina, after the Islanders were swept by the Hurricanes.
“Personally, I don’t know if in two months I’m going to look back and I’m going to be very satisfied. It stings,” he added. “The only positive I can really take out of it is you’ve really kind of have to feel this way to get over the hump and know how this feeling actually feels. That goes a long way.
“It’s just a learning lesson.”
Barzal and his teammates will go through their exit interviews with management on Monday in East Meadow. It will be a shorter offseason and one filled with more optimism for the next season than was the case the previous couple of years, when the Islanders missed the playoffs.
They finished second in the Metropolitan Division with 103 points — a 23-point improvement over the previous season — while giving up an NHL-low 196 goals after allowing 293 the previous season, the most in the NHL since 2007.
“There were some positives,” right wing Josh Bailey said. “Whenever it ends, it’s always a bit of an empty feeling, especially when you feel like you had an opportunity. It hurts. Now is not really the time for reflection.”
It’s likely to be a busy offseason for president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who is expected to remold his roster — specifically his top-six forwards — to bolster the goal production. The Islanders also have several key unrestricted free agents on the roster, starting with captain Anders Lee and goalie Robin Lehner, a finalist for the Vezina and Masterton trophies.
Barzal, the playmaking center, figures to be a centerpiece of next season’s roster after recording 18 goals and 44 assists a season after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie with 22 goals and 63 assists in 2017-18.
“Being a young guy, sometimes you’re not going to win right away,” said Barzal, who will turn 22 on May 26. “You got a taste of what it feels like to lose. You’ve got to remember this feeling and just know how bad you really want it. That can go a long way in my career. Especially with everyone here. You taste the playoffs and you definitely, definitely want to be back here soon.”
Barzal had two goals — both on the power play — in the four games against the Hurricanes with a potential third goal waved off because of a goalie interference call on Lee in the Islanders’ 1-0 overtime loss in Game 1 at Barclays Center. He had five assists as the Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round.
The Hurricanes did a good job of limiting the Islanders’ offensive chances, particularly in Friday night’s 5-2 win in Game 4 in Raleigh. Barzal had a dynamic first period and gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 2:30 with the man advantage. But the Islanders had a hard time getting pucks and bodies to the net consistently in the last two periods.
“I just thought when there were key moments in the game, they did a really good job, and it seemed like when they got one goal, they got another one quick,” Barzal said. “Every time we scored, they would come back and get a quick one and kind of slow us down a little bit. It almost felt like we were Pittsburgh in this series. We just couldn’t get a two-goal lead. We couldn’t get a bounce. Credit to Carolina, they’re playing great hockey.
“I just love the intensity of the playoffs,” Barzal added. “It was great. Losing now in the second and it really hurting, it’s going to help in the future just knowing what this feeling was like.”