In almost every playoff series, there is a moment of inevitability. There is a moment when one team realizes the other is better, and nothing they can do will halt the coming end. Did the New York Islanders feel that moment Sunday when the Carolina Hurricanes bounced them 5-2 at UBS Arena for a 3-1 series lead?
The Islanders avoided the dreaded 3-0 hole with an offensive explosion at the end of Game 3, but there was no such magic Sunday as Carolina marched to a 4-0 lead by early in the third period.
The Islanders have had a few comebacks that made heads spin this season. Sunday was not going to be one of them. Sebastian Aho set up Seth Jarvis four Carolina’s fourth goal just 80 seconds into the final period, and at least the inevitability of Game 3 was known.
If not the series?
It sure felt like the fight drained from the Islanders, though a couple of late goals had a slight air of defiance.
Anders Lee sounded the right tone after the game.
“We’ll regroup here. We’ll do our best to make sure we have another game in this building,” Lee said defiantly.
Carolina’s top center Sebastian Aho had three points, including Carolina’s third goal later in the second period. He had three points (1-2-3).
The Islanders’ top center is not having equal success. Bo Horvat, acquired before the NHL trade deadline, was a series-long goose egg until the final minutes of Game 4 when he scored a shortie to make it 5-2.
Bo Horvat, thus far, for @NYIslanders:
Game 1: 0 points, EV, 21:54, 2 shots, 1 missed
Game 2: 0 points, EV, 21:03, 2 shots
Game 3: 0 points, +1, 18:16, 2 shots
Game 4 (2 periods): 0 points, EV, 11:28, 0 shots, 1 shot blocked
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 23, 2023
Adam Pelech scored the first Islanders goal later in the third period.
Special teams are also sinking the Islanders. After earning no power plays in Game 2, they netted a power-play goal late in Game 3 to fire their record-setting offensive surge. However, their PK has been burned for multiple power-play goals twice in four games.
“We’re taking too many penalties … it’s killing our momentum and getting four lines rolling,” Horvat said.
Lambert circled the early 5v3 goal just a few minutes into the game.
“The 5-on-3 that they had shifted the game a little bit,” coach Lane Lambert said as he disputed the first call on Zach Parise for goaltender interference.
But officials don’t usually reconsider.
Carolina even outhit the Islanders 42-31. That might be the biggest insult to injury, as the Islanders have owned the physical play in the first three games.
But officials don’t reconsider. Nor does fate.
When the moment arrives, it’s obvious.
From the Islanders website, Zach Parise said, “We got jammed up in the neutral zone tonight. We weren’t getting through with any speed. That didn’t allow us to get below the goal line with a ton of possession, which was what was working [for us] last game.”
The Islanders are on the short end of a few calls this series, but that only adds to the mounting pressure. The Carolina Hurricanes won the Metro. They’re a playoff-savvy team not given to mistakes or self-defeat. They’re fast and motivated.
They won’t give the Islanders an easy game or a way back into the series.
The New York Islanders will have to take it and do so on enemy territory with 18,000 screaming fans desperate for a storm surge at center ice.
Facing elimination has a funny way of revealing a team’s true self.
Was Sunday that moment of inevitability or another bad game, the likes of which we saw far too often in the regular season? If there is to be that promised Game 6 at UBS Arena, the New York Islanders will need their very best.
It could be worse. The Islanders could be Pittsburgh, watching from afar.