ELMONT, N.Y. — The Islanders had just put their best two periods of the postseason together, finally finding a way to dominate the Carolina Hurricanes — whom they were trailing 3-games-to-2 on Friday night in Game 6 — for significant stretches of time.
Over the first 40 minutes, they held a 1-0 game, had the lion’s share of scoring chances, and were outshooting them 28-19.
But then they took their foot off the gas and allowed the Hurricanes to get back in it.
“When you’re just trying to hold on, it doesn’t work well,” Islanders forward Mathew Barzal said. “The first few periods we were playing aggressive and in the third period, we kind of sat back and just wanted to clog it up and make it hard. Sometimes when you do that, it goes the other way.”
That’s exactly what happened as Carolina’s Sebastian Aho tied the game up midway through a third period that saw the Hurricanes outshoot the Islanders 19-5 before Paul Stastny ended the Islanders’ season 6:01 into overtime.
“They came out and we got on our heels a little bit,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “I thought we still defended hard and well.”
New York’s tentative play that saw them try to sink into a defensive shell was not the game plan heading into the period — nor should it have been. The Islanders had ample chances to get a second goal to put the game away in the second period but lacked the finishing touch to beat Carolina netminder Frederik Andersen for a second time.
“We had a couple chances to go up by more than one but I thought the third period, we failed to execute, had too many turnovers,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “They came hard and we needed to make more plays.
“I felt like we could have been more on our toes. I didn’t think we established our forecheck in the third period so as a result, we were on our heels more than we needed to be. There’s no question about that.”
There wasn’t much Lambert could do in the thick of the third to make the proper adjustments, either: “Just tell them to get on their toes, get moving, and get moving forward.”
“It’s just hard to flip that switch mentally when you’re up one and don’t want to make that mistake,” Barzal said. “It’s more of a hard mental battle to try to get through.”