There was a lot of talk about reality by the Islanders Sunday after Game 2 in Brooklyn. There was Barry Trotz, whose players generally carry the same poise he presents behind the bench, talking about how his team played a fairly complete game.
"That's the cruel reality sometimes is that you play really well and you don't get the result," he said.
Then there was Robin Lehner, the outstanding goaltender who summed up the game in this way: "We're not going to put excuses on hitting posts and bars and stuff, but the reality is I think we were the better team, and they just scored one more than us."
That's all well and good. But here's the true reality: The Islanders have scored one goal through 120 minutes -- plus 4:04 of overtime -- and lost the first two games of this series on home ice, even if it is their rental home. The Islanders were well rested and the Hurricanes had to grind through seven games in the first round, and Carolina's players have been dropping like flies, including their starting goalie in the middle of Game 2.
Reality: The Isles must be better.
When the Penguins struck during the first round, the Islanders were able to answer right back. There was no such response when the Canes scored twice in a span of 48 seconds during the opening minutes of the third period to take the 2-1 lead they would keep for good. They can lament every clang off the post and crossbar, or the disallowed goals. But the timely goals haven't been there.
And you wonder now, as you wondered at the time, about Lou Lamoriello's decision to stand pat at the trade deadline and not add some scoring punch, especially now with the Lightning swept out of the first round and the East wide open.
Jordan Eberle, he of the four-goal first round, had one shot in Game 1, one shot in Game 2 -- yes, he rang one off the bar. Mathew Barzal's goal was the result of Jaccob Slavin deflecting the puck into his own net while trying to stop a pass. They put just seven shots on target in the third period against backup Curtis McElhinney after Petr Mrazek left in the second with an injury.
Carolina generating very few chances doesn't matter if the Islanders don't take advantage of theirs on the other end. The Hurricanes certainly took advantage in the third, and it was more than just "48 seconds of pretty good hockey," as Trotz put it.
The Islanders were lackadaisical to open the period. Devon Toews' pinch didn't work, and Lucas Wallmark was able to bank a puck past Matt Martin, trying to cover for Toews, in a quick transition leading to Warren Foegele's equalizer. Brock Nelson loses a battle with former Islander Nino Niederreiter, allowing Niederreiter space in front to tip Teuvo Teravainen's shot in.
Reality. This isn't to pile on the Islanders, who certainly haven't played poorly. But they should not try to talk themselves into thinking everything is fine and dandy, into thinking they can simply continue to play as they did over the first two games and things will turn around, that bounces will start to go their way.
Yes, the Isles had stretches like this during the regular season, have faced adversity and came out of it all as the fifth-best team in the NHL. The playoffs are a different beast. There's a different kind of pressure for them now heading on the road while trailing 2-0.
It was clear the Islanders would be stingy and knew they could count on Lehner. The big question hanging over the Islanders down the stretch of the regular season was whether they would be able to score enough in the playoffs.
Lamoriello clearly thought they could, and his belief will be tested for the duration of the playoffs, which for the Islanders could be the duration of this series if some goal-scorers don't emerge.