NY Islanders feeling the "sting" following first-round exit
That's the phrase that was passed around in the NY Islanders locker room following their 2-1 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that ended their season. The Islanders held a 1-0 lead for about 40 minutes, scoring halfway through the first period before the tying goal came halfway through the third period on the stick of 'Canes forward Sebastian Aho.
For the majority of the Lou Lamoriello era, and quite frankly for a healthy portion of the 2010's Garth Snow era, the core of the Islanders has been together for a long, long time. The fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck have been together since Clutterbuck was traded to the Islanders in the summer of 2013. The Islanders were most successful between 2018 and 2021 when they went to the postseason three times and rode a wave of momentum year after year, reaching the Eastern Conference Final twice, the latter of which they missed a Stanley Cup Final appearance by one goal.
Following another failed playoff performance, it stings that much more for those who have been around a long while.
"I can't speak for everyone obviously," Martin said Friday night. "I'd imagine it stings for the young guys too, but the longer you're in this league the harder you realize it is to win. Every time you have an opportunity, you try to make the best of it. It sucks, but we'll wear this one for a little while then get back on the horse and get ready for next year."
He continued: "Everybody in this locker room wants to win a Stanley Cup. That's the goal, the dream. It hurts the same amount every time, whether it's the first round or the third round. We believe in the group that we have and we fought hard all year. We had some tough stretches and battled to get here. We were excited and confident about tonight but couldn't find the second goal."
Ryan Pulock, drafted by the Islanders in 2013 and debuted for Long Island in 2015, was arguably the Isles' best player in the series not named Ilya Sorokin. His long-time defense partner, Adam Pelech, has been in the organization for roughly the same amount of time. Pelech has evolved into such a dependable, homegrown defenseman for the Islanders that it came as a surprise when he was the one who turned the puck over in overtime which lead to the game-winning goal.
"Every time you have a season end like this, it stings," Pulock explained. "Like you said, this group has been together for a while. We've had success and have gotten close. I think that fire inside, you want to get there. You want to win. Yeah, maybe it wasn't pretty all season, but at the end of the day we came together, we found a way and we gave ourselves a really good chance in this series. That's a great team over there too, with a lot of playoff experience. We just came up short."
Both games that went to overtime in the series, the Islanders had held a third-period lead at some point. The Hurricanes battled back to tie the game in the final frame each time, and the Islanders went on to lose both games in overtime which very clearly highlights the Islanders' third-period woes in the postseason.
"Two games in overtime, both of those games we held a third-period lead," said head coach Lane Lambert. "It stings."
He added: "I certainly felt like we could have been more on our toes. I didn't think we established our forecheck in the third period. As a result, we were on our heels more than we needed to be, there's no question about that. Therefore, it became difficult to break out of our zone."
Following the conclusion of Game 6, the Islanders' season was over too soon to reflect on it as a whole. However, Lambert alluded to taking a look back in the near future and evaluating what's next moving forward.
"We'll take a look at the season as we go forward," Lambert explained. "We'll summarize the season in a few days. Right now, the loss is our focus at the moment. It stings. I will say our guys showed a lot of commitment, a lot of determination all year long. We battled right down to the end."