Barry Trotz couldn't find the right buttons to push as the Islanders were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs Friday evening.
Different line combinations, a goaltender swap early in the second period and the threat of elimination weren't enough as the Hurricanes defeated the Islanders 5-2 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2008-09.
Several teams have won 4-0 and then lost 0-4 in consecutive playoff series. However, the only team to do that in the first two rounds of a postseason since the NHL expanded the first round to best-of-seven in 1986-87 was the Sabres in 1993 when they swept the Bruins and then were swept by the Canadiens (per Elias Sports Bureau.)
"To have an end like this, it's hard," Islanders captain Anders Lee said on MSG Network. "When you get this far, your expectations change because you know how special this group is, you know how hard we worked for it and you know what we are capable of. When you don't get to where you want to go it's just extremely hard."
The Islanders were well-rested heading into the series after a long layoff following their first-round series sweep of the Penguins while the Hurricanes had a hard-fought seven-game duel with the Capitals. But as each game passed, Carolina emerged as the stronger team while the Islanders strayed further and further away from their disciplined style.
Mathew Barzal opened the scoring to give the Islanders an early advantage in the first period, but the Hurricanes quickly dashed any hopes of a series comeback. Just 2:14 after the goal, Sebastian Aho notched a power-play goal of his own when he found a puck during a scramble in front, and Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech inadvertently directed the puck past Robin Lehner.
"Every time we scored they would come back and get a quick one and kind of slow us down a bit," Barzal said. "It almost felt like we were Pittsburgh in this series. Couldn't get a two-goal lead, couldn't get a bounce and credit to Carolina, they are feeling it right now."
The Hurricanes would eventually chase Lehner from the cage early in the second period when they struck twice within 66 seconds. Teuvo Teravainen finished a beautiful tic-tac-toe sequence after Aho was able to bump a tired Pelech off the puck behind the net. And then fourth-line forward Greg McKegg finished a rebound in front to end Lehner's evening.
Justin Williams and Andrei Svechnikov also scored to seal the Islanders' fate.
"Mixed feelings right now," said Lehner, one of seven unrestricted free agents this upcoming summer. "It's tough that the season is done but you can't overlook how we played this year. Very proud of this team, very proud of this organization. It's been a hell of a year. This is not how we pictured the ending of the story."
While the Islanders will exit the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a sour note, to categorize this season as anything but a success would be short-sighted. With new leadership steering the ship, a talented young core and several high-end prospects on the way, the Islanders are poised to be a contender for years to come.
"They left it all on the table, this group is a special group. They did some things not a lot of people thought we could do," Trotz said in an interview with MSG Network. "It's a little bit of a bitter taste right now. I am really proud of the group. We got a real good foundation of work ethic and structure and some great character guys, all the people on the island should be proud."