The New York Islanders were pushed to the brink of elimination on Wednesday night, falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Carolina beat the Islanders 5-2 in Game 3, thanks to a pair of empty-netters. In actuality, the Isles and Canes played their third close game of the series, embattled in a 2-2 tie before Justin Williams scored the go-ahead goal with 9:45 to play.
"There's only one way to look at it. You have to earn the right to keep playing," Captain Anders Lee said. "Game 4 is in a couple days. We have to win it. That's all it is. We have to keep ourselves alive."
The margins for error were already small heading into the must-win game and only tightened late in a 2-2 tie. Robin Lehner's attempt to play the puck along the boards was batted down by Sebastian Aho, who fed Williams for a quick shot out front that proved to be the decisive play.
Video: NYI Recap: Season on the brink after Game 3 loss
Lehner, who entered the game leading the playoffs in goals against average and save percentage, tried to take ownership of play in the aftermath.
"I own that one," Lehner said. "Tight game, we had chances, they had a lot of good chances and it came down to one play."
As admirable as that was for Lehner to face the music, Head Coach Barry Trotz wouldn't let his goalie stand alone.
"I appreciate him doing that, but we win and lose as a team," Trotz said.
Wednesday's game was the most wide open of the Isles and Canes' three contests. Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Faulk gave the Hurricanes 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but the Isles responded with a pair of tying goals from Devon Toews and Josh Bailey.
Video: CAR 5 vs. NYI 2: Robin Lehner
Toews' goal was a seeing-eye wrister on a first period power play, going through traffic and Lee's legs before beating Curtis McElhinney at 8:20. After Faulk made it 2-1 with a breakaway out of the penalty box, Bailey evened the score again, sending a dart past McElhinney at 14:13.
The quick responses, as well as posts from Andrei Svechnikov and Williams early on teased the idea of luck breaking the Islanders way. It didn't add up to a third goal as veteran backup came up with some key saves, including a skate save on a Nick Leddy breakaway in the second period.
They could not find a quick response after Williams go-ahead goal, as the Hurricanes went into lockdown mode. Teravainen and Aho iced the game with a pair of empty-netters in the final minute.
"We're in a tough spot. [We] can't let the frustration set in," Bailey said. "I think the series could easily be the other way around. That's how close are two teams are and how these games have went. It hurts thinking about it that way, but at the same time we're right in it."
Video: CAR 5 vs. NYI 2: Josh Bailey
The Islanders focus shifts to staying alive, as they look to become the fifth team in NHL history to rally back from an 0-3 series deficit. The LA Kings were the most recent team to pull it off, coming back against San Jose in 2014. The Philadelphia Flyers also dug out of the same hole in 2010 against Boston.
"We've got to earn our right to keep playing," Trotz said. "Our backs are against the wall and we have to come back with our best effort. If we don't, then we won't earn the right to play. One thing I know about our group is that this group has been resilient all year. Everybody has doubted this group in every way, shape or form. They don't in the room, I don't doubt them."
Cal Clutterbuck was in the Islanders lineup on Wednesday night, assuming his usual spot on the fourth line with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas. The Isles winger was officially a game-time decision after missing Tuesday's practice.
SVECHNIKOV, MARTINOOK RETURN FOR CAROLINA
Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Martinook both returned to the Hurricanes lineup on Wednesday night, their first appearances in the second-round series.
Svechnikov had been out since suffering a concussion in Game 3 of the Hurricanes first-round series against Washington, while Martinook had been out since Game 7 vs Washington with a lower-body injury.
Svechnikov, the second-overall pick in the 2018 draft, played on the Canes' third line and rung a shot off the post in the first period, while Martinook slotted in on the fourth line.
The Islanders and Hurricanes play Game 4 on Friday night in Raleigh.