Heartbreaker is a cliched term.
But it fits perfectly for the Islanders’ 4-3 loss to the Predators on Thursday night at UBS Arena.
After Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson couldn’t clear the puck, defenseman Roman Josi’s shot from the left point through traffic was deflected in by Eeli Tolvanen with 11.5 seconds left in regulation.
"It’s a tough one to swallow," said Anders Lee, whose second-period power-play goal was his third tally in two games. "We give ourselves a lead in the third period and we weren’t able to shut it down. This one stinks."
The last-place Islanders (6-11-5), desperate for points, had a four-game point streak snapped at 1-0-3, fell to 0-5-2 at their new $1.1 billion home and have lost 12 of their last 13 games as they recover from a COVID-19 outbreak.
"I felt like we deserved at least a point, maybe two tonight," coach Barry Trotz said. "But that’s not the way it’s going for us right now. So that one hurt because I thought we played a pretty solid game against a pretty good team."
Perhaps the Islanders could have gotten a break in the final minute to avoid Tolvanen’s winner. Predators goalie David Rittich (18 saves) appeared to play the puck illegally outside the trapezoid and Mathew Barzal could have drawn a tripping penalty. Neither was called.
"We can’t blame the refs," defenseman Adam Pelech said. "We know that we were in a position to win or at least get a point there. That’s on us."
Dobson, playing in his 100th NHL regular-season game, gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead on a twisting wrist shot from the right point past Rittich at 5:08 of the third period. Ross Johnston retrieved the puck behind the crease and got it to defenseman Andy Greene at the left point.
It was a good example of how the Islanders’ cohesive team game is repairing itself.
Yet the Islanders have been outscored 28-16 in the third period this season.
"They came out hard in the third period," Pelech said. "They’re good offensively and they were kind of all over us. Over the past few years, we’ve learned, playing with a one- or two-goal lead in the third period, you can defend as hard as you want, but it’s tough if you’re spending the whole period in your own zone defending. I think we need to get back in the mindset of attacking, spending time in their zone."
Yakov Trenin got to the right post and pushed it past Semyon Varlamov (25 saves) to tie it at 3 at 12:31 of the third period.
The Predators (15-10-1) also negated the Islanders’ good start with two goals within 84 seconds to take a 2-1 lead after the first period. Ryan Johansen slipped behind defenseman Sebastian Aho, who had coughed up the puck, for a tap-in at the right post to tie it at 1 at 17:28. Then Varlamov kicked out a long rebound of defenseman Matt Benning’s shot from the right point directly to an unchecked Colton Sissons in the left circle, and he made it 2-1 at 18:52.
Austin Czarnik opened the scoring at 6:48 of the first period, cutting toward the crease to knock in Oliver Wahlstrom’s backhand feed from the left after he had transported the puck up ice. It was Czarnik’s first NHL goal since Oct. 24, 2019, with the Flames.
"We held them 10, maybe 11 chances during the game," Trotz said. "We did that, but we didn’t get a win. We got the three goals. We should be able to lock it down, hopefully. But we seem to be leaky at times."