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Second Round

Islanders still can't catch break in Game 3 loss to Hurricanes

On verge of getting swept after giving up winning goal on ill-advised pass

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Robin Lehner has made the play a million times. He's practiced it repeatedly too.

Puck gets dumped in, go behind the net to retrieve it, and send it up to a teammate.

Josh Bailey was waiting along the left-wing boards for the puck after Carolina Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter dumped it in from center ice midway through the third period of a tie game. Lehner moved quickly to cut it off behind his net, saw Bailey out of the corner of his eye and tried to send it up the boards.

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

But Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho made a terrific play to knock Lehner's pass out of the air and fed Justin Williams in front for what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 5-2 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at PNC Arena on Wednesday.

The Islanders' season will be on the line in Game 4 of this best-of-7 series at Carolina on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS).

"It was a mistake; I own that one," said Lehner, who fell to the ice with his hands on his mask while the Hurricanes celebrated Williams' goal. "Tight game. I think we had chances, I think they had a lot of good chances. It came down to one play.

"We're always confident we can get the next one. Unfortunately, the last couple of games we haven't gotten it. But coming in 2-2 into the third period, I thought I was playing well. I had a bunch of saves. It comes down to that play. I screwed up."

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm3: Williams pots Aho's feed for lead

Lehner's teammates weren't about to lay the blame on him, not with the season he's had that has led to being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top goalie.

"That's by no means on him," said Bailey, who tied the game 2-2 with a wrist shot from the slot at 14:13 of the second period. "That's a world-class player in Aho, takes a swipe at it, knocks it out of the air … I'm not sure if it deflected in front when Williams shot it or what have you, but that's hockey sometimes."

And it's been a recurring theme in this series, yet another example of the Hurricanes working for the bounces they've received in each of the first three games that started with one off the end boards in overtime of Game 1 that led to Jordan Staal's goal for a 1-0 victory.

But the Islanders didn't want to hear about breaks and bounces after their third straight loss. All they care about is finding a way to extend their season Friday.

"They're earning their breaks too; I'm a big believer in that," coach Barry Trotz said. "We've earned some opportunities, and we've got to push hard to get more opportunities and more breaks. Keep working and stay with it.

"We've got to earn the right to play, keep playing. Our backs are against the wall. We've got to come with our best effort. If we don't, then we won't earn the right to play."

It's frustrating for the Islanders to think about, considering how close each game in this series has been; it was a one-goal game Wednesday until Teuvo Teravainen and Aho each scored into an empty net in the final minute. They didn't allow a goal in regulation in Game 1. They took a one-goal lead into third period of Game 2, but watched it evaporate in 65 seconds and lost 2-1.

They rallied twice to tie Game 3, on a goal each from Devon Toews and Bailey, but couldn't find a third against 35-year-old goalie Curtis McElhinney, who made 28 saves in his first Stanley Cup Playoff start.

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm3: Bailey snipes wrister by McElhinney

And now it's do-or-die on Friday.

"Only one way to look at it; you've got to earn your right to keep playing," captain Anders Lee said. "Game 4, couple of days, you've got to win it. That's all it is. We've got to keep ourselves alive."

The Islanders know what they're up against, they know the history, how they're one of four NHL teams in the playoffs that have rallied to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games, but that was in 1975 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Their chances of winning this series are slim, but their coach knows they won't go down without a fight.

"The one thing I know, this group has been resilient all year," Trotz said. "Everybody's doubted this group in every way, shape or form. They don't doubt in the room, and I don't doubt them. You're going to get our best effort. If our best effort is good enough, we'll have the right to keep playing.

"We can't look back. We can't correct what hasn't gone our way or anything we've done poorly or anything that we've done well. It's gone. All we can do is look at the next game, the drop of the puck next game and go forward from there."

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