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Desperate Isles must ‘Raleigh’ in Carolina

Look to climb out of 0-2 hole after brutal weekend in Brooklyn

April 30, 2019 JT Torenli
Defenseman Ryan Pulock and the rest of the Islanders were left deflated following two excruciating home losses to the Carolina Hurricanes in Downtown Brooklyn this past weekend. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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It wasn’t the 10-day layoff following their startling sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins that led to the New York Islanders falling into an 0-2 hole in their second-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Nor was it the unorthodox switch in home arenas that denied head coach Barry Trotz’s squad continued success during this postseason.

Instead, it was the “unseen hand” Trotz referred to following two hard-fought but ultimately fruitless games against the Hurricanes, who will host a critical Game 3 showdown Wednesday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“We’ve dug ourselves a little hole and there’s some urgency,” ceded Trotz after New York dropped a pair of heartbreaking one-goal decisions in its return to Downtown Brooklyn over the weekend.

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“It’s a race to four [wins] and they’re up two.”

The Isles played their game against the Hurricanes at Barclays Center, both Friday night and Sunday afternoon, following their week-and-a-half hiatus.

But Carolina, employing a virtual mirror image of New York’s defense-first style, cashed in on its opportunities with greater frequency and was the beneficiary of some puck-luck, which the Isles were hard-pressed to come across after hitting several posts and losing a pair of critical replay challenges.

The opening two acts of this series were a far cry from the type of fortune the Isles experienced against the Penguins, who entered as heavy favorites before being swept away by Trotz’s underdogs.

“I don’t think we went through any [adversity] in that last series,” said Trotz during Monday’s off-day presser.

“There’s always tests, or an unseen hand,” he added. “Something that will test you a little bit. We’re going to Carolina to win two games, plain and simple. You can’t win two unless you focus on the first. So, we’ll focus on the first, and go from there.”

While much was made of the Isles’ move back to Barclays following two home wins at the renovated Nassau Coliseum in the opening round, New York was in position to win both contests here.

They had a potential goal disallowed in Game 1 despite team captain Anders Lee getting pushed into the Carolina net and saw rookie defenseman Devon Toews’ tally in Game 2 wiped out due to the puck being kicked off his skate before sneaking past Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney.

“It hasn’t been a series where they’ve out-chanced or outplayed us,” said Trotz, who led his former team, the Washington Capitals, back from an 0-2 deficit in the opening round last year en route to a Stanley Cup title.

“It could very easily be us on the positive end, but we’re not,” he added. “Even though we’ve lost two games, we’ve got some confidence and it slipped away from us in under a minute.”

It sure did.

Leading 1-0 in Game 2 following Friday night’s excruciating 1-0 overtime defeat, the Isles appeared to go up 2-0 on Toews’ nifty skate work, only to lose their fourth replay challenge in three games.

But Carolina stunned New York in the early stages of the third period as Warren Foegele and former Isles prospect Nino Niederreiter tallied in a 48-second span, erasing the lead provided by Mathew Barzal’s first career playoff goal.

Mathew Barzal’s first career playoff goal Sunday afternoon at Downtown’s Barclays Center is the only tally the Islanders have managed in the first two games of their second-round playoff series against Carolina. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Mathew Barzal’s first career playoff goal Sunday afternoon at Downtown’s Barclays Center is the only tally the Islanders have managed in the first two games of their second-round playoff series against Carolina. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Isles goalie Robin Lehner, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, has stopped 47 of 50 shots over the first two games of the series.

However, the Isles have scored just once in over 120 minutes of action, despite clanging pucks off the iron behind Petr Mrazek and McElhinney.

“Today, what did we have three or four posts, bars?” Lehner said after Game 2.

“A couple ones that were real close going in. We were a better team today. They got a goal and then they got a good tip, you know? It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get a comeback.”

They’ll have to come back in a major way beginning Wednesday night as Carolina, buoyed by its commanding lead and headed home for the first time since saving its season with a Game 6 win against Washington in the opening round, will be ready to go for the kill.

“You gotta respond and you have to dig in,” Trotz insisted. “We have another level of focus and another level of commitment. We’re going in there fully committed.”

Lehner is likely to continue starting between the pipes in Game 3, despite the fact that back-up netminder Thomas Greiss went 3-1 in the four regular-season meetings against the Hurricanes while yielding just one goal in three consecutive wins.

But the key to New York’s success going forward will rely more heavily on its ability to get the puck past Mrazek, who left Sunday’s game with an undisclosed lower-body injury, or McIlhenny, the Game 2 hero who made 17 saves in relief down the stretch.

The Isles must find a way to do whatever it takes to get this series back to Brooklyn for Game 5 on Sunday.

They desperately need that “unseen hand” to turn back in their favor.

“This is a game of inches. We’ve hit how many posts?” Trotz pondered.

“A half inch one way or another, we have to fight for those inches.”

Isle Have Another: Veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck, who returned to the ice to start this series after leaving Game 4 in Pittsburgh with an undisclosed injury, appears likely to miss Game 3 in Carolina. Clutterbuck left Game 2 against the ‘Canes with yet another undisclosed ailment, prompting Trotz to say Monday that rookie Michael Dal Colle, who is yet to skate in the series, could be in line for some action Wednesday night. “This time of the year, people have to step up,” Trotz told Newsday. “Clutter got hurt last night. We’ll see where he is going forward. If you’re going to have success in the playoffs, it’s the next guy up.”

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