RALEIGH, N.C. -- A season almost nobody saw coming from the New York Islanders ended in a way nobody saw coming.
After they were swept in the Eastern Conference Second Round with a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Friday, the Islanders had little interest in discussing whether the nine-day layoff they had in between rounds after opening the postseason with a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins had a negative impact.
"You give them Game 1, that's it," captain Anders Lee said of the Hurricanes, who have won six in a row after trailing 3-2 in their best-of-7 first-round series against the Washington Capitals and won 1-0 in overtime in this series opener at New York 48 hours after eliminating the Capitals with a double-overtime win.
[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]
"It took us a period to figure it out back then, but we can't look at it like that. We had opportunities. It's a best-of-7. We had our chances to turn it around. We're not looking for excuses right now."
Perhaps they're searching for reasons how they were defeated at their own game by the Hurricanes, who overcame numerous injuries to key players, including goalie Petr Mrazek, who shut out the Islanders with a 31-save performance in the series opener but sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Game 2.
Carolina refused to allow New York to gain any momentum over the course of the series and did so again in the finale Friday. Mathew Barzal gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal 2:30 into Game 4, but it lasted all of 2:14. Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho responded with a power-play goal of his own at 4:44, shortly after Islanders forward Leo Komarov took a roughing penalty against Carolina forward Justin Williams.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Barzal jams home rebound for PPG
It was the type of response New York made repeatedly in the first round against Pittsburgh.
"In this series, anytime we got momentum, they got it right back," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "It was almost like a flip-flop of our first series. They did a really good job.
"You think about [how] we've had success all year, it's being able to shut down other teams. Counter, frustrate them, all that. They did a lot of that to us. When you're pressing, we usually counter, and they did that against us. We were chasing the whole series."
Trotz admitted he wrestled with who would be his starting goalie for Game 4. Robin Lehner, who won all four games against the Penguins, hardly struggled against the Hurricanes, even if he was pulled when Greg McKegg gave Carolina a 3-1 lead at 3:17 of the second period.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: McKegg beats Lehner with tap-in tally
Thomas Greiss won three of four regular-season games against the Hurricanes, but Trotz was aware of the real issue.
Still, he wouldn't reveal his starter even two hours before the game.
"There was a lot of talk. A lot of talk," Trotz said. "We went back and forth. That's why I didn't want anybody to really know. That was a real tough decision. In this series, goaltending really wasn't the problem. It was more of the goal scoring. I understand [Greiss'] record (against Carolina). You guys wrote about it, we knew about it. We just felt that I'm not going to put the blame on the goaltending, because it wasn't the problem in this series at all.
"We just got punched in the nose, and I was looking for a spark. Goals had been pretty hard to come by in this series, and we couldn't let it get past three. I just felt that hopefully it could quiet it down, maybe guys would focus in for [Greiss]. We just couldn't get close enough in the end."
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Canes, Isles exchange handshakes
Few people expected the Islanders to even be this close, 12 wins shy of a championship, especially after their former captain, center John Tavares, opted to sign a seven-year contract with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018. Not after they missed the playoffs the previous two seasons and allowed a League-high 293 goals in 2017-18.
"You think about the summer that we had … there was a lot of transition, there was a lot of things happening, and this group pulled together despite all those difficulties," said Trotz, who was hired two weeks after helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup. "They came together, they became a good hockey team. We made the playoffs and got to the second round. It's disappointing we didn't go further, but you've got to start somewhere."
They started by going from allowing the most goals in the League to the fewest (191), a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division with 103 points and having home-ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1988. And they swept the Penguins in the first round.
They'll probably look back in a few weeks and realize the strides they've made as an organization. But right now …
"You work so hard to get in this position and to put yourself in an opportunity to keep on playing. To have it end like this, it's hard," Lee said. "We did a lot of things this year that no one expected us to do.
"But when you get this far, your expectations change. We know how special this group is, we know how hard we worked for it and we know what we're capable of. When you don't get to where you want to go, it's just really hard."