Islanders hoping to re-channel ‘pissed off’ feeling toward refs to keep 2023 season alive

Islanders Game 4
New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) and Sebastian Aho (25) react after Carolina Hurricanes’ Mackenzie MacEachern scored a goal during the third period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. The Hurricanes won 5-2. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The physical play that is a necessity for the Islanders to hang with the Carolina Hurricanes has been getting them in trouble as of late. And it’s something they know needs to be fixed ahead of Game 5 on Tuesday night in Raleigh.

A five-penalty afternoon in Game 4 of their first-round tilt, which resulted in two power-play goals, has led to the Islanders’ backs firmly being set against the wall down 3-1 in the series with one more loss spelling the end of their season.

“We’re trying to play hard, we’re trying to play physical,” defenseman Ryan Pulock, whose boarding penalty in the first created a 5-on-3 Carolina opportunity that led to the game’s opening goal. “Maybe we’re crossing the line a little bit at times that we have to control our emotions a little bit more. That’s something we can learn from and we can take that into [Game 5].”

The Islanders had out-hit the Hurricanes 97-56 over Games 2 and 3 of the series, but it has come with a constant parade to the penalty box. Undisciplined Islanders play has awarded Carolina an NHL-leading 19 power plays during the playoffs and they’ve scored on five of them.

Meanwhile, the Islanders have scored just once on 12 power-play opportunities, often losing steam when the referee’s whistle blows against them.

Isles Hurricanes Game 4
New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) stops a shot on goal by Carolina Hurricanes’ Seth Jarvis (24) during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

“We can’t take as many penalties as we did. We have to try and not focus on the ref,” defenseman Sebastian Aho said. “I feel like we were maybe a little too focused on being pissed off at them. We just have to focus on ourselves and play our game and I feel like most of it will come into play.”

Special teams have been the divider of this series. The Islanders have controlled a majority of play from an even-strength standpoint but needed a late power-play goal from Kyle Palmieri to open the floodgates in a 5-1 victory in Game 3 at UBS Arena — their lone win of the postseason so far. 

“Special teams is key in the playoffs and it’s important for all of us that’s playing on the PK or on the power play,” center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “In a key moment in the game, you need to do the job.”

That job becomes much easier, though, if the Islanders can just find a way to stay out of the penalty box.

“I’m sure everyone’s going to be on point [in Game 5],” Pageau said. “There’s a lot of emotion in the playoffs when you play the same guys over and over again. If we control that, maybe a lot of those penalties go away.”

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