RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz mulled whether to change goaltenders with his team facing elimination before deciding to stick with the reliable Robin Lehner as the starter.
By the time he made the switch, the Islanders were down two goals and on their way being swept out of the playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes chased Lehner with a pair of goals in 66 seconds early in the second period in Friday night’s 5-2 win in Game 4 of the second-round Eastern Conference series, though the switch came more out of Trotz’s desperation to find something — anything — that could extend their season a little longer.
“It was a real tough decision because in this series, goaltending really wasn’t the problem,” Trotz said of mulling the switch before the game. “It was more the goal scoring.”
Lehner allowed three goals in 11 shots before Trotz went to Thomas Greiss. But Greiss — appearing in his first playoff game since 2016 — gave up one of his own to Justin Williams midway through the second to put the Islanders in a 4-1 hole, turning the third period into a formality in a building filled with rowdy fans breaking into multiple chants of “Sweep! Sweep!” over the final minutes.
Lehner and Greiss had paired to form a reliable duo all season for the Islanders, who allowed a league-low 196 goals this season and combined for a franchise-record 11 shutouts.
Lehner had a single-season franchise record .930 save percentage, good for second in the NHL, to go with a 2.13 goals-against average that ranked third in the league among qualifying goaltenders who played at least 21 games.
Lehner allowed six goals in a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round, only to find himself on the losing end of three close games to start the series with Carolina — leaving him winless in seven career games against the Hurricanes.
This time, after a 1-1 first period, the Hurricanes went ahead on a perfectly executed bang-bang-bang play that ended with Teuvo Teravainen alone on the right side for the score at 2:11.
A little more than a minute later, Greg McKegg stuffed a loose rebound under Lehner and into the net for the 3-1 lead to end the netminder’s night.
“We just got punched in the nose, and I was looking for a spark,” Trotz said, adding he was trying to find a way to “quiet it down.”
Lehner said he felt good and expected to start despite Trotz declining to announce a starter beforehand, with Trotz saying he didn’t want to give the Hurricanes a chance to prepare. But Lehner didn’t resent Trotz for the decision to pull him, saying the Hurricanes “came out flying” in the second period and called Trotz “the best coach in the league.”
“It’s hockey, I don’t take that personal,” Lehner said. “I think they came out really hot (in the second). I think the first period, I saw six shots, but they were all right in front of me. I felt like I made some really good saves at the beginning of the second, but they scored two pretty good goals.”
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