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So they are down 2-0 in this second round best-of-seven to the Hurricanes with the next two games set for Raleigh, but that may not be the biggest problem confronting the Islanders following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat in Brooklyn.
Though the only way for the Islanders to climb out of this hole is to first acknowledge their work through the opening two games was not sufficient before committing to improved attention to detail beginning with Wednesday’s Game 3, the team seemed to believe it had played well enough to merit a different result.
“They got a goal on a pretty good shot that I should have stopped and then they got a tip,” said Robin Lehner, beaten twice within 48 seconds of the third period’s first 1:05 by Warren Foegele’s left-circle drive and Nino Niederreiter’s mid-air deflection. “We’re not into excuses, but in reality we were the better team.”
Attention: Scoring one goal through 124:04 of the series is not good enough.
Attention: Getting the puck to the net a total of 27 times, and 17 times in 33:33 against relief netminder Curtis McElhinney after he replaced injured starter Petr Mrazek, is not good enough, either.
Attention: The better team will be the one to advance, not the one that may or may not have had the edge in either aesthetics or analytics.
Lehner’s opinion was not unique in the room. Sometimes players say what they think and other times players say what they think is appropriate. The Islanders’ frustration was understandable after dropping the type of low-scoring tight game that they’d dined on all year, but it is critical for the team to recognize the regular season is as gone as the first-round sweep over Pittsburgh.
The Islanders need more. They need more zone time below the hash marks so they can unleash their ground game. They need more production from, well, from everybody. Their only goal of the series, Mat Barzal’s on the power play at 13:17 of the first period to give his team a 1-0 lead, was scored when No. 13’s attempted backdoor feed for Josh Bailey was inadvertently deflected past Mrazek by defenseman Jaccob Slavin.
Otherwise, plenty of nothing against McElhinney, the 35-year-old journeyman who has made three playoff appearances, all in relief, during a 12-year career in which the Candy Canes are his seventh team. There were a couple of crossbars and one try from in close that hit the outside of the right post after the Islanders had pulled Lehner for the extra attacker, but a bare minimum of sustained pressure for the second straight game.
“I think we played a pretty good game,” Anders Lee said, accurately enough. “Now we’ve got a few days to regroup and get our energy back.”
The 10-day layoff between rounds many have dulled the Islanders’ senses heading into Friday’s 1-0 overtime defeat but the Canes sure weren’t enjoying a picnic, going directly from Game 7 double-OT victory in D.C. on Wednesday to Barclays 48 hours later for Game 1. Carolina is battered — defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk departed for good with a left shoulder injury after being driven into the wall by Cal Clutterbuck 26 seconds into the match — but the Islanders haven’t been able to take advantage of the Canes’ physical distress.
“There’s a little bit of frustration but you can’t let it get the best of you,” said Matt Martin, beaten point-blank from the right doorstep by McElhinney at 9:44 of the second. “We need to be at our best now.”
The Islanders are going to dance with the ones that brung ’em to the ball. They’re not going to start playing risk-reward hockey, though if there’s a team with whom the Islanders shouldn’t mind trading chances, the Canes are it. Still, the Islanders will play to the identity they created under Barry Trotz.
“We need to stay the course,” Martin told The Post. “Our system and style was good enough for us to get 103 points and it was good enough for us to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, so I don’t think we’re going to start deviating from that because we lost two games.
“We need to get more pucks to the net. Hopefully, we’ll start burying our chances. That will give us more confidence around the net.”
So it is onto Carolina, down two for the Islanders, decent so far but not good enough. Scoreboard don’t lie.