ELMONT, N.Y. — There the Islanders sat, once again, dumbfounded as to what had just happened.
For the fifth time this season, the Islanders lost a game they entered the third period leading, blowing a 4-1 lead by allowing three goals over a 6:35 span — yielding the game-tying tally with 1:30 left in regulation to Tomas Hertl, who capped off a frenzied comeback for one of the worst teams in hockey, the San Jose Sharks.
Then, with 4.3 seconds left in overtime, William Eklund beat Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin to secure the unlikely 5-4 triumph on Tuesday night at UBS Arena.
“I don’t have any words for you on that,” captain Anders Lee said after the demoralizing loss. “Bad. Just really bad.”
The Islanders’ latest collapse was the 10th time this season that the Islanders have squandered a lead in the third period — continuing the alarming fact that this is a team that can’t close out games consistently enough to be considered a legitimate playoff contender.
“It’s unacceptable, that’s all that needs to be said,” center Brock Nelson said. “Up two at home, four or five minutes left, we should be putting two points in the bank and moving on… For whatever reason, this is costing us too many times.”
Turnovers are the main crux of the issue. A Ryan Pulock giveaway directly led to Kevin Labanc’s goal with 8:05 remaining in regulation to make it a 4-2 game. A giveaway in the neutral zone led to an icing that set the Sharks up in the Islanders’ zone for Hertl’s second goal of the night to make it a one-goal game with 3:11 to go. A failed clear attempt then extended San Jose’s zone time in the final moments as an out-of-sorts defense left Hertl wide-open at the right post for an easy back-door tap-in to tie it up.
“Guys have to make plays. That’s it,” he said. “You have the ability and we will continue to work on it. But in those moments, those plays have to be made… It’s completely unacceptable. It’s happened too many times. It just has to stop. That’s the bottom line…
“We had the game under control with eight and a half minutes left and to lose that hockey game is a sin.”
This is a roster that still has a considerable number of holdovers from the team that made two consecutive Stanley Cup semifinals in 2020 and 2021. The likes of Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, and Noah Dobson are still on the blueline. Lee, Nelson, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Palmieri, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and the fourth line are still here.
In theory, this should be second nature to them. It’s just not clicking.
“That was always one of our strong suits. When we went into the third period with a lead, we all knew in here that it was going to get closed out,” Mayfield said. “We have to get back to that. For me, it’s a confidence thing where wer’e in between the second and third and every guy in this room knows that we’re going to go out there, be aggressive and play hard and they’re not going to get many chances. That’s what we have to get back to.”
It’s now gotten to a point where sticks are being held a little bit tighter, Mayfield admitted, and that old feeling of “here we go again,” isn’t far away.
“It’s always in the back of your mind, maybe a little bit,” center Bo Horvat said. “It’s sad to say and it’s happened so many times this year where it’s hard not to think about when you’re going out there again, that it’s gonna happen again.”