The New York Islanders need a fast start to avoid an early end to their season when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes in a must-win Game 5 at PNC Arena in Raleigh later tonight.
NY Islanders: First period playoff scoring drought has to end in Game 5
Most of this series has been played with the score within a goal, but the Islanders haven't spent much time with the lead. In the three games they've lost, the Isles have trailed by two goals at some point, a losing formula against any team, but especially one as defensively sound as Carolina.
In Game 5, the Isles need to find a way to do two things they haven't done in a long time, score a first-period playoff goal and end the first 20 minutes with a lead.
When the Islanders went to the dressing room down 1-0 on Sunday afternoon in Game 4, it was the 24th consecutive playoff game that the Islanders have not led after the first season. That's the longest streak in the NHL since the Montreal Maroons achieved the dubious distinction for 26 straight games from 1928 - 1935.
Their last lead after the first period was Game 5 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Edmonton bubble in a game they eventually won in 20T on a goal by Jordan Eberle that kept the series and season going.
It gets worse.
The Islanders not only have not led after the first period in 24 playoff games, but they also have not scored a goal in nine straight postseason games dating back to 2021 when Brock Nelson scored at the 13:30 mark of the opening period against the Lightning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
These stats are especially troubling a Hurricanes team that is 43-5-4 this season when scoring first in the regular season and playoffs, the second-best winning percentage, only behind the Boston Bruins, who incredibly lost only one game in regulation all season when scoring the opening goal. The Islanders aren't nearly as good, with a record of 28-11-5 (including playoffs) when scoring first, but are well under .500 at 15-23-3 when allowing the opening goal.
"We need to come out with desperation at an all-time high," said Brock Nelson on Monday. "We have to come out and just worry about that start, worry about the first period and know that on the backside we need to win a game."
Elimination games can get out of hand if the road team can't withstand early pressure and keep the crowd out of the game. The Islanders are due for a good start that results in a first-period lead, one that will prevent Carolina from settling into their defensive structure that has kept the Islanders on the perimeter and struggling to generate high-quality scoring chances.