Takeaways: Hurricanes gut their way past Islanders despite injury woes

The Carolina Hurricanes scored two goals in under 48 seconds as they beat the New York Islanders 2-1.

Down three key forwards, a top-six defenceman and their starting goaltender, trailing by a goal going into the third period of Game 2 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the New York Islanders, the Carolina Hurricanes once again showed their resilience.

They are a group that’s been battle-tested this year. A team that had the 23rd-best record in the National Hockey League on Jan. 1, one that head coach Rod Brind’Amour said has been playing playoff hockey ever since that day. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by what they’ve done in 2019 so far.

But we should absolutely be impressed. They put up the NHL’s third-best record from Jan. 1 to the end of the regular season, and they came back from 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits to dispatch the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.

And on Sunday, without rookie sensation Andrei Svechnikov, without versatile forward Jordan Martinook and gritty forward Micheal Ferland at their disposal — and with defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk injured on the first shift, goaltender Petr Mrazek injured with more than half a game to go, and with forward Saku Maenalanen hurt in the third — they gutted their way to a 2-1 win at Barclays Center.

Goals for Warren Foegele and Nino Niederreiter gave the Hurricanes a 2-0 series lead over the Islanders going back to PNC Arena, where the team has won 10 of its last 13 games and all three so far in the postseason. Let’s get to some takeaways on the game that put them in that position:

McElhinney to the rescue

When Mrazek slid across his crease and came up limping 26:27 into Sunday’s game, it meant Curtis McElhinney was going to see his first action since April 6.

That he managed to stop all 17 shots he faced to earn the win for the Hurricanes was a minor miracle. Not just because the 35-year-old hadn’t played in so long, but because he and the Hurricanes also hadn’t practised together in weeks. Facing the grind of the playoffs — the Hurricanes played three periods of overtime in their seven-game series with Washington –, practice time was reduced by head coach Brind’Amour to nil.

“We can’t,” said Brind’Amour on Saturday. “We don’t have enough guys. We’re looking down to [the American Hockey League affiliate in] Charlotte and seeing who we can get next. And at this time a year, I don’t know what practice is going to do. Our practices come in the video sessions and trying to touch up here or there. It would be nice if we had time to practise, but we didn’t take care of business in the first round early enough to practise.”

That it didn’t hurt McElhinney in this situation is nothing short of remarkable.


Lady Luck unkind to Isles

Prior to Sunday’s game, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz made what proved to be a very ominous statement.

“There’s a hidden hand out there that sometimes gets played that you have no control over,” Trotz said. “It just pops once in a while.”

It was out in full force in Game 2. First, when the Islanders thought they’d taken a 2-0 lead with 13 seconds to go in the second period, when defencemen Devon Toews got to a loose puck behind Carolina’s net and kicked it with his right skate behind his left, off Hurricanes backup McElhinney and into the net. And then, with Carolina’s first two shots of the third period, Fogele and Niederreiter scored 48 seconds apart.

The Islanders had held the Hurricanes to just 12 shots on goal through the first two periods, but their first two mistakes of the game found the back of their net.

They rebounded quickly, tilting the ice back towards McElhinney and generating several quality scoring chances. But Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock all hitting the post in the dying minutes served as three of many examples of bad luck the Islanders dealt with in this game.

Bang and crash

Coming into Sunday’s tilt, New York’s line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck had combined for zero points and a minus-9 rating in these playoffs.

They were picked apart on Foegele’s game-tying goal, making them a combined minus-12. But they aren’t a trio the Islanders depend on for their defensive prowess, nor are they relied on to score goals. No, this group, aptly nicknamed “the identity line,” is about punishing the opposition on the forecheck, creating energy and momentum, and being hard to play against.

Between them, Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck had 81 hits in their first five games of the playoffs. Hit no. 82 came in the first shift of Game 2 — taking van Riemsdyk out of the game and possibly out of the series.

Clutterbuck stormed in on the forecheck and pasted van Riemsdyk with a clean bump into the glass. He knocked the six-foot-two, 195-pound defenceman to the ice.

Shortly after, van Riemsdyk left for the locker room clutching his left wrist to keep his shoulder in place. He did not return.

It could be a key moment in the war of attrition between these teams. One that hurts the depth of the Hurricanes, who, as we noted, are battered and bruised already.

PK perfection

The penalty kill has been a staple of the Islanders’, turning around their horrific goals-against numbers from a year ago — they went from 31st in the category in 2017-18 to 1st in 2018-19 — and if it continues to be as good as it’s been through six games of the playoffs, it could prove to be the reason why this team is capable of overcoming the deficit it’s currently facing.

In Sunday’s game, the Islanders barely allowed the Hurricanes into their zone on their first power play. Then, they followed that up by not allowing a shot on net on Carolina’s 5-on-3 advantage for a minute and nine seconds.

They have killed off 17 of 18 penalties and 16 in a row in these playoffs.

Mrazek a huge loss

The Carolina starter had a 135-minute shutout streak going — the second-longest in Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers playoff history — when New York’s Mathew Barzal banked a shot off Jaccob Slavin’s stick for just his second goal in his last 30 games dating back to the regular season.

Mrazek bounced back well and was keeping the Hurricanes in the game when he went down. He was otherworldly against Washington and appeared to be taking his game to the next level against New York, so it’s a huge loss.

Even if McElhinney had nearly identical statistics this year (McElhinney had a .912 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average in 33 appearances to Mrazek’s .914 and 2.39 in 40 appearances), he’ll be hard-pressed to match what Mrazek has offered thus far. Consider it one more test to this team’s resilience.

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