The New York Islanders desperately needed a win to keep pace in the race for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference Monday night, but instead they played a flat, uninspired brand of hockey and fell to the Nashville Predators before 11,671 fans at the Barclays Center. The loss, combined with Tampa Bay’s comeback win over Chicago, left the Islanders behind both the Bruins and the Lightning in the race for the final playoff berth. All three teams have seven games left on their schedule.
“We had to be at the top of our level for the last 4-6 weeks, it’s like every game is a playoff game,” interim head coach Doug Weight said. “It’s tough. We’ve got to find a way to dig deeper and try to put games together.”
Two telling stats that indicated the game was not as close as the final score: The Islanders were credited with 18 giveaways in this contest, while the Predators had just 10. Meanwhile, Nashville had 17 takeaways while the Isles managed just two.
Overall, it just seems as if the Islanders are mentally exhausted after trying to get back in the playoff face after this season’s slow start.
“If you start thinking that you’re tired in your head, you’re not going to play to the standard that you want,” said captain John Tavares. “We’ve given ourselves a good chance to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a spot where we can fight till the end, but I think we’re just disappointed that we didn’t play well enough today, starting with myself. It’s just not good enough.”
The Islanders trailed 1-0 after the first period but they were fortunate to still be in the game. The Preds controlled the tempo and the puck for the vast majority of the period. Nashville broke on top at 10:17 when Kevin Fiala beat Isles starter Thomas Greiss with a snap shot. James Neal did a good job of backchecking to start the play back in the Nashville zone.
Viktor Arvidsson gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at 3:15 of the second period when he tapped home a centering pass by Filip Forsberg. The Islanders asked for a review on the play but replays showed the puck hit Arvidsson’s skate and then his stick before going into the net and the goal stood.
The Islanders were outshot 13-6 in the second period and were thoroughly outplayed but strong goaltending by Greiss kept them in the game. Then, Josh Bailey deflected a shot from the point by Nick Leddy with 2:40 left in the second stanza and the Isles were somehow back within a goal at 2-1.
Anybody hoping for a third period push by the Islanders had to be disappointed. The Isles managed only four shots on goal in the first half of the period and were unable to penetrate the Nashville defense which kept them from getting quality chances in close. The Isles had a few chances in the closing minutes of the period but couldn’t beat Predators goalie Juuse Saros.
Ryan Johanssen scored his 13th goal into an empty net with 20.5 seconds left on the clock to seal the victory for Nashville and send a frustrated Islanders team to their fourth straight defeat on home ice (0-3-1).
“It was a tough loss,” Bailey admitted. “Every team is tired at this time of year. I don’t know any team that’s fresh. So you’re looking for some kind of energy as you fight for the playoffs.”
The Islanders return to action Thursday night when they travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers. This is shaping up to be a must-win game for the Isles.
The Islanders are now 1-21-8 when this season when they score two or fewer goals in a game.
Scratches included Shane Prince, Scott Mayfield and J.F. Berube while Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk and Nikolay Kulemin remain out with injuries.
Nick Leddy assisted on the lone Islanders goal of the game and set a new career high with 41 points on the season.