RALEIGH, N.C. (CBSNewYork) — The Islanders may be down, but as far as they’re concerned they’re far from out.
Despite having home-ice advantage, New York dropped the first two games of its Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Yet, the players seem pretty calm considering they could be staring disaster in the face if they don’t win Game 3 on Wednesday night at PNC Arena.
Goaltender Robin Lehner made it clear neither he nor his teammates are panicking right now. In fact, they sound awfully confident.
“It’s not a big deal. We’re just going to go down there and win,” Lehner said after Tuesday’s practice on Long Island. “It’s a pretty simple game plan. We’re going to score one goal more than they do next game, then go from there and win another one.”
Putting the puck in the net has been a problem in this series so far and a recurring issue since October. The Islanders, who engineered a historic defensive turnaround this season, allowing 100 less goals than they did in 2017-18, have scored just one goal in the first two games and it went in off an opposing player’s stick. And while no one is trying to downplay how well they played in their opening-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Isles relied more on timely goals and stout play in their own end than they did brute force on offense.
Remember, this is the same team that finished the regular season 22nd in the NHL with 223 goals. Their power play was 29th at a paltry 14.5 percent. Only Carolina has converted less with the man advantage among teams still alive in the playoffs.
Making things even more challenging, the Islanders have been looking in a mirror of sorts in this series. The Hurricanes have the same defense-first mentality, and as a result the ice has gotten a lot smaller in a hurry. On top of that, the Isles haven’t gotten many breaks, hitting the post or crossbar three times in Sunday’s 2-1 loss in Game 2. And let’s not forget, they were unable to take advantage of cold backup goaltender Curtis McElhinny, who entered Sunday’s game in the second period after starter Petr Mrazek exited with a lower-body injury.
Still, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said championship-caliber teams find a way, regardless of the circumstances.
“We’ve played well enough to maybe be up 2-0, but we played poor enough to be down 2-0. It’s a fine line,” Trotz said. “As it goes on, you’re going to have to go through some adversity if you’re going to go on and go deep in the playoffs. Every team has those moments, that adversity, things don’t go your way. Just like we had the first minute of the third period. Didn’t go our way and put us in a little bit of a bind.”
Aside from the all-important scoring goals thing, the Islanders outplayed the Hurricanes during both games in Brooklyn. Trotz said if his players stay the course and keep doing much of what has made them successful, the “puck luck” will hopefully change and they should at the very least find a way to get the series back to Barclays Center at least once.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of desperation in your game — someone to punch you in the nose a little bit to wake you up and get you a little bit mad. I think we’re a little bit angry and ready to go. That might be a good sign for us,” Trotz said.
If the Islanders are to get back into this series, they are going to need contributions from top forwards Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle. They were basically unstoppable against Pittsburgh, scoring a combined seven goals, but have been nonexistent so far against Carolina.
“There is only one thing that matters — how many goals you get,” Trotz said. “We haven’t scored enough for Robin. We’ve given up three goals in two games and we’re down 0-2. That’s just reality. We have to score some goals, and maintain our identity as a good defensive team.”
Game 4 will be played on Friday at 7 p.m. in Raleigh.