This time, the exasperating part for the Islanders was not that they failed to play the way they had wanted. It was that for most of the third period, they did exactly what they had planned. In the end, that was not enough.
Having finally figured out a way to prevent shots, they held off the Predators almost to the very end. The key word is “almost.” The Islanders lost their lead with 42.2 seconds left in regulation and then lost in overtime, 5-4. So they settled for one very sour-tasting point Monday night at Barclays Center.
“We talked in here how important this game was and what we had to do to be successful,” Casey Cizikas said, recalling the locker room vibe between the second and third periods. “We did that for 19 minutes and 18 seconds. This one hurts.”
Instead of celebrating many good plays and a stretch of eight minutes, by Doug Weight’s count, in the third when the Islanders did not allow a single shot, they were left to regret having seen Ryan Johansen knock home a rebound in the final minute after Nashville had pulled its goalie. And they had to regret wasting Jaroslav Halak’s two saves on breakaways in overtime before Roman Josi won it at 3:42 of the extra session.
“It was our best period in a long time,” Weight said of the third, in a tone that indicated he found no consolation in it.
Of the unhappy ending, the coach said, “We deserved it from the first two (periods). We had the lead but turning pucks over, they have to look at themselves.”
By “they,” he meant his own players.
“Thirty-six shots after two periods, how many from the blue line hit Jaro right in the stomach?” Weight said “To me, that means you’re not in the shot lane. We talk a big game about being aggressive and blocking shots and we’re not doing it.”
Shot totals have been a sore subject for the Islanders, what with this marking the 10th time in the past 19 games in which they have allowed 40 or more (the total this time was 47). Against Nashville — playing without prolific scorer Filip Forsberg, suspended for his hit to the head on the Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey Saturday — the Islanders managed to go ahead despite the shot volume.
John Tavares (power play), Ryan Pulock (point blast) and Cizikas (a neat play on a rush just out of the penalty box) all beat Pekka Rinne in the first period. Nick Leddy, having ended a 2 1⁄2-month goal drought Saturday, scored his second in two games to put the Islanders ahead 4-2 early in the second. But Calle Jarnkrok cut the deficit to one late in the second for the team that had two first-period goals from Kevin Fiala.
Then the Islanders finally executed their plan, almost to perfection, almost to the end. “It still doesn’t make that an easy loss,” said Andrew Ladd, who, like Cizikas, was on the ice for Johansen’s goal. “You’ve got a lead going to the final minute of the third period and we need to wrap that up.”
The point did move the Islanders into a tie for fourth and into a playoff position in the fluid Metropolitan Division.
“We can’t get down on ourselves and we have to realize just how good of a team we are and put our best foot forward,” Cizikas said. “I think it’s a step forward.”
But it could have been two steps forward.