Well Islander fans it took 10 days but they finally found out their opponent. The Islanders will face the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Carolina knocked off Metro Division winner Washington Capitals in a seven game series. The ‘Canes won on a Double Overtime winner by Brock McGinn, 4-3, and after being absent from the playoffs for the past ten seasons now have a chance to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The ‘Canes are just, if not more of an improbable story as the Islanders but no preseason expectations can stop this team on a roll. The two teams are built somewhat similarly but have a lot of similar qualities as a whole. It’s going to be an intriguing series and the winner will take on the winner of the Columbus Blue Jackets/Boston Bruins series. Let’s break down each matchup.
The Isles and ‘Canes are built in almost the exact same way from a forward standpoint; No one “superstar” and contributions from everyone up and down the lineup. You can argue the two biggest stars in this series are Mathew Barzal and Sebastian Aho of Carolina, but they aren’t yet in the same conversation as the Connor McDavids or Sidney Crosbys of the world.
The Islanders relied on every line except their fourth for scoring in the Pittsburgh series, getting multiple goals from Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. The fourth line still set the tone and will continue to set the tone throughout the playoffs. If the Islanders are going to win, they’re going to need to do more of the same from everyone in the lineup.
As for the ‘Canes, their top scorer was Warren Foegele, who had only 10 goals and five assists in the regular season. he scored four goals and added two assists in seven games. Some other big contributors were Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Staal, who potted three goals each. Justin Williams, the ‘Canes captain, was a calming force in the locker room and continues to be one of the most clutch players in Stanley Cup Playoff history, adding to his resume on Wednesday night with his 15th point in Game 7, the most in NHL history.
The key to whether or not the ‘Canes have an advantage will be how healthy Andrei Svechnikov and Michael Ferlund are at the beginning of the series. If either misses a few games to start, the Islanders most certainly have an advantage. However, with Svechnikov, Ferlund, and Nino Niederreiter all healthy and producing, the ‘Canes have a pretty stingy forward group. Due to the uncertainty though, I’m keeping it completely even.
We’ve sung the praises of the Islanders’ defense for the entire season. This collective group of young and old defensemen have helped give the Islanders’ the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team who gives up the least amount of goals in the season. The pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock completely shut down Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. The Islanders play a complete team defensive system, forwards, defense, and goaltending all in unison.
The Hurricanes play a similar style as the Islanders, only they play less traps and a little more zone. The D consists of a few mainstays from the past and a few new faces. Those left over from the massive trade of Noah Hanafin and Elias Lindholm to Calgary include Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Trevor van Riemsdyk and stalwart Justin Faulk. The two new faces are Dougie Hamilton (who came over in the Calgary trade) and Calvin de Haan, former Islander fan favorite.
While Carolina may not have any names that pop out at you, Faulk is a former All-Star D-man, Slavin eats up minutes and is responsible in their own zone, and de Haan is reliable in his own end when healthy. The Islanders are not fully healthy, as they lost Johnny Boychuk to a lower body injury and Thomas Hickey is taking his place. If the Islanders played the Washington Capitals, Hickey’s size would be a much bigger issue. He tends to get pushed off of pucks more easily than other D-men due to his size, but Carolina isn’t a particularly big team. If anything, Hickey’s speed plays into the Isles’ favor.
Advantage – Islanders
This is the only category that’s no contest. Robin Lehner has been excellent so far in the playoffs, posing a .956 SV % and a 1.47 GAA in a 4-0 sweep of the Penguins. He made pretty much every save he needed to and never got off his game against a team with an unlimited range of talent. The ‘Canes have gotten good but not great goaltending from Petr Mrazek. His stats are a bit misleading because of a 6-0 blowout loss in Game 5, but his .899 SV % and 2.53 GAA are average at best for a playoff goaltender.
The only way Carolina wins this battle is if Mrazek gets red hot, which he’s had a tendency to do. Mrazek is about as streaky a goaltender as one can be, and if he’s on a roll then he’s nearly unstoppable. Lehner was in the past but has reached a level where he’s just a consistently good goalie. The Islanders should win this battle, but if they don’t it’ll be because Mrazek stole some games.
Advantage – Islanders
The Islanders PP is nothing but inconsistent, but they did find a way to score clutch goals when they needed to. Their 15.4% success rate is near the bottom of the Playoff stat table but the ‘Canes come in just under them at 12.0%. The winner of this battle won’t be who has the better PP, because clearly both are struggling, but who can score the more timely goal.
The Islanders have had a much better PK so far as they converted at 90.0% compared to the Hurricanes’ 75.0%, but in fairness when you have Alexander Ovechkin stroking from the face-off circle there isn’t much that can stop it. However, the Penguins do have an All-Star lineup on their PP and the Islanders were able to hold them to one goal.
Advantage – Islanders
Rod Brind’Amour has been excellent in his first year with the Carolina Hurricanes. While he isn’t an Xs and Os savant just yet, he has this team believing and he is an excellent motivator. He seems to have pushed all the right buttons throughout the season and the Hurricanes are buzzing at the right time.
The Jack Adams Trophy favorite Barry Trotz has done the same for the Islanders, but has one distinct advantage over Brind’Amour. He has a Stanley Cup in his back pocket, more importantly last year’s Stanley Cup. A first year coach versus a grizzled vet who won the last Stanley Cup? Islanders in a landslide.
Advantage – Islanders
This series can honestly go either way. The Hurricanes don’t have an advantage in any of the categories but these teams are so evenly matched it may not even matter. Both are great stories and both have had to deal with media shunning both franchises through the season and the playoffs. The Bunch of Jerks vs the Greaseballs of Long Island is going to be a hell of a fan matchup.
This series is going to come down to two things; How hot Petr Mrazek can get and how much production the ‘Canes can get from their D corp. The Islanders have an advantage from a defensive side, but the ‘Canes’ D corp as a whole as much better moving the puck and jumping in on the play. If Justin Faulk or Jaccob Slavin have the opportunity, they will try to score from deep.
We all know that a hot goaltender can change a series, so if Petr Mrazek can go on a J.S. Giguere type run, he can lead the Hurricanes to a series win. If not, then the Islanders will smother the Hurricanes into submission and get timely goals when needed. It’s going to be a much closer series than people think, but the advantage in coaching is undeniable.
Islanders in 6.