With the Islanders moving past the Penguins and the Hurricanes dethroning the Capitals, the magic surrounding these two teams has continued in the post-season.
All season long both of these franchises had something to prove and banded together to do it. The Islanders lost franchise star John Tavares to free agency, but when Barry Trotz came in as coach the No. 1 message he drilled was to take a team approach, buy in to the message and stick to the plan. It worked to build long-term stability in Nashville and it worked to lead Washington to a Stanley Cup last year. And now, it’s working on a team most had written off before the season even started in October.
Carolina was similar, but had more hope surrounding them. While their goal scoring was still hard to come by in the first half, it finally broke through in January and became a strength for the team. The Storm Surge and all the criticism levied on them from outside the organization bonded them even more.
Both of these franchises are underdogs whose message has been all about the team over the individual. Here’s how they match up heading into Round 2.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
NY Islanders: 47.85 CF% (26th), 56.06 GF% (2nd), .936 SV% (1st), 8.57 SH% (9th), 1.022 PDO (2nd)
Carolina: 54.80 CF% (2nd), 51.95 GF% (12th), 92.07 SV% (14th), 7.17 SH% (28th), .992 PDO (25th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
NY Islanders: 14.5 PP% (29th), 79.9 PK% (18th), 223 GF (23rd), 191 GA (1st)
Carolina: 17.8 PP% (20th), 81.6 PK% (8th), 243 GF (16th), 221 GA (8th)
NY Islanders: 3-1-0
The story of the first round:
The Islanders’ dominant team effort continued in a shocking four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although Barry Trotz’s team allowed less than 33 shots against only once, they did an excellent job keeping those opportunities away from the most dangerous areas and created far more high-quality chances themselves. The Islanders’ success this season has been the result of an “all for one, one for all” effort, and while everyone was pulling their weight in Round 1, a couple of individual performances stood out.
Jordan Eberle struggled through his contract year with just 19 goals and a career-low 37 points, but started to pick up that pace near the end of the season when he was united with Matt Barzal and Anders Lee on the top line. That success ballooned against the Penguins. Eberle scored four times, each goal either tying the game or putting the Islanders up by one.
The Jerks from Carolina, meantime, ousted the defending champions in seven games and needed a second overtime period in Game 7 to get it done. Predictably, Mr. Game 7 himself Justin Williams set up the series winner.
But although they went the distance in Round 1, it was one of the more lopsided series by the numbers. Carolina controlled a league-best 58.79 per cent of the 5-on-5 shots and 56.91 per cent of the high danger chances. Goal scoring, long a sore spot for the Canes despite years of excellent possession numbers, has finally been found. From Jan. 1 on, only the Tampa Bay Lightning scored more than Carolina and in the first round, they scored a league-best 16 goals at 5-on-5.
They’ll want their power play (12 per cent in Round 1) to find a groove and Petr Mrazek will need to be better, but with the strong blue line and an emerging offence, Carolina is as good a bet as any to come out of the East. The Hurricanes may have only been to the post-season three of the past 16 seasons, but they reached at least the conference final each time.
Islanders X-Factor: As long as Eberle plays with Lee and Barzal there will be some question about depth scoring for New York, but one player who shone in the first round was Josh Bailey who scored three times, each of them big: An OT winner in Game 1, followed by the insurance marker to seal Game 2 and another in Game 4 to put the series away.
When John Tavares left we wondered what kind of a hit Bailey’s production would take, but he still posted the second-best point total of his career and his goal levels stayed fairly consistent. If the Islanders win it’ll be on the strength of their defence and goaltending, but that could create a low-scoring environment where a key goal from an unexpected source could be the difference. Away from the first unit, Bailey is a prime candidate to provide that.
Hurricanes X-Factor: Had you known Mrazek would come out of Round 1 with an .899 save percentage, there’s no way you’d think Carolina won the series. But most of that was because of two especially bad games. Still, Carolina’s offence was their top story against Washington and with Lehner playing out of his mind in the opening series (.956 save percentage, 1.47 GAA) that same cover may not be there for Mrazek.
Mrazek has been a great story all season, taking a one-year contract to prove his worth after it seemed he had settled as a backup, at best. But the thing is, he’s still prone to those blow-up games when you least expect it. Game 5 against Washington is a good example of this, when he allowed six goals on 28 shots.
If New York, and especially Lehner, turn this into a low-scoring series the margin for error will be thin. And if Mrazek doesn’t improve from his first seven games, it could turn into an issue.
Johnny Boychuk, leg (out)
Andrew Ladd, knee (out)
Cal Clutterbuck, undisclosed (day-to-day)
Scott Mayfield, undisclosed (day-to-day)
Micheal Ferland, upper-body (day-to-day)
Andrei Svechnikov, concussion (day-to-day)