RALEIGH, N.C. – Robin Lehner spoke confidently on Tuesday about how the Islanders would score a bunch of goals and win a game or two on this trip down south to face the Carolina Hurricanes in Games 3 and 4 in PNC Arena.
Well, the two goals they scored Wednesday night were double the number they had totaled in the first two games of the series, but they weren’t enough to get the Isles the win they desperately needed. And Lehner, who has hardly made any mistakes this season, made a crucial one at a bad time to gift the Hurricanes what turned out to be the deciding goal in their 5-2 win that gave them a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
With the game tied, 2-2, Lehner went behind his net to play a dump-in and tried to ring the puck up the boards. But Carolina forward Sebastian Aho picked the puck out of the air and fed in front to Justin Williams, who finished it to put the Hurricanes ahead for the third time in the game, 3-2. Carolina added two empty-net goals to puff up the score.
“Again, it was a tight game,’’ Lehner said afterward. “It got decided on one mistake. It’s a tough one.’’
Asked if it was really a mistake that gave the puck to Aho, or a great/lucky play by Aho, Lehner said that one was definitely goaltender error.
“No, it was a mistake,’’ he said. “I own that one.’’
Islanders coach Barry Trotz, told that Lehner had claimed ownership of the mistake that produced the game-winning goal, said that was noble by his goaltender, but unnecessary.
“I appreciate him doing that, but we win and lose as a team,’’ Trotz said. “There’s other plays during the game – he’s bailed us out many times.’’
The way Lehner has played all season, all postseason, and in the first two games of this second-round series, the 6-4, 240-pound goaltender has been the one thing the Isles could rely on, even if nothing else was working. And surely, with the Hurricanes’ top goaltender, Petr Mrazek, unable to play in Game 3 Wednesday because of a lower body injury, the Islanders had to be thinking that they would have the advantage in the net, and a good chance to get back in the series.
But Curtis McElhinney, making his first career playoff start, outplayed Lehner Wednesday, stopping 28 shots to backstop the Hurricanes to their fifth straight victory. Lehner, who had a 1.47 goals against average and .952 save percentage in the playoffs entering Wednesday, made 33 saves.
McElhinney was just solid all game. His best sequence came midway through the second period, when Islanders forward Jordan Eberle had a partial breakaway and defenseman Nick Leddy hustled to join the rush. Eberle fed Leddy in the middle and Leddy went diagonal and tried to tuck a backhander inside the post. McElhinney stretched out his left leg and stopped the puck with his skate, then stopped Eberle’s rebound try to preserve what was a 1-1 score at the time.
Lehner, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, was asked if, since the games have all been close, that gave him hope they could win Game 4 on Friday.
“We’re always confident we can get the next one,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, the last couple games, we haven’t gotten it. Again, coming in, 2-2, into the third period, I thought I was playing well. I had a bunch of saves, and it comes down to that play and, I screwed up.’’