RALEIGH, N.C. — Facing a steep 0-3 deficit in their second round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Islanders needed to take and sustain control for four games in a row. In their first of their must-win games on Friday night, the Islanders did take control early, but sustained it for only four minutes, squandering an early lead by knocking the puck into their own net. They ultimately capitulated to Carolina in a 5-2 defeat in Game 4 to finish a sweep in the series in front of a franchise-record crowd of 19,495 at PNC Arena.
The Islanders dominated the first two-and-a-half minutes of the game, earning an early power play, notching the first five shots of the game and scoring on the fifth, when Mathew Barzal tucked the puck past the outstretched right skate of Carolina goaltender Curtis McElhinney.
That momentum was quickly neutralized, however: a Leo Komarov roughing penalty against Justin Williams four minutes into the game put the Hurricanes on the power play, and a rebound on Sebastian Aho’s shot was inadvertently snapped into the net by Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech, leveling the game.
With Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour shuffling his lines, the Hurricanes dominated the start of the second period, earning an early power play and scoring on a Teuvo Teravainen one-timer to go up 2-1 after just 2:11.
”They got us with a punch right to the nose right at the start of a period,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz. “We just needed the next puck and we didn’t get it.”
Where the Islanders had quickly squandered their advantage, Carolina consolidated, scoring again 66 seconds later with Brad Pesce’s shot hitting Robin Lehner high and falling at his feet, where Greg McKegg slammed it home for a 3-1 lead.
“We weathered their storm a little bit, and then got on our horse and scored two quick ones,” McKegg said. “Just played solid from there on out.”
McKegg’s goal, the third Lehner had allowed on 11 shots, was enough to cause Trotz to call for a timeout and for his backup netminder, Thomas Greiss. When Lehner saw that he was being pulled, he skated toward the Islanders’ bench and tapped his stick along the boards before skating off to the corner of the arena where visiting goaltenders are relegated to solitary soul-searching.
The arrival of Greiss did little to turn the tide of the game; Carolina captain Justin Williams batted home a backhand to put his team up 4-1, earning the 100th playoff point of his career. Andrei Svechnikov scored unimpeded against Greiss to make it 5-1 with just under five minutes remaining; Brock Turner notched the Islanders second goal with just over a minute remaining, long after their threat had been called off.
After outscoring the Penguins by 14-6 in their first round sweep, the Islanders managed only five goals in four games against the Hurricanes, a team that has again found its improbable playoff prowess.
The Hurricanes have proved aptly named when it comes to the playoffs. The team has reached the postseason only four times since 2002, but have advanced to the conference finals all four times.
“When you have a lot of time off when you don’t make it, I think it’s just so special, and the guys want to make it count,” said Brind’Amour, who was a player on the Hurricanes’ three previous trips to the conference finals. “I think that’s where we’re at right now: It’s a special time. You put in all that work in the off-season and the regular season, and you just want to see it through.”
The Islanders were the first team with a sweep-then-swept playoff run since 1993, when the Buffalo Sabres swept the Boston Bruins in the first round only to be swept in the second round by the eventual champion Montreal Canadiens. 1993 was also the last post-season in which the Islanders reached the conference finals.
This series pitted two teams that entered the season with low expectations after falling far short of reaching the playoffs last season. The Islanders, who won only 35 games last season and lost their star John Tavares in free agency, won 48 games this season, finishing just 1 point behind the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan division.
With the win on Friday, the Hurricanes remained undefeated on home ice in the playoffs, winning all five games at PNC Arena, where crowds of re-energized fans have packed the stands after gathering in the parking lots hours before the first puck drop for pregame tailgates not often associated with hockey, and chants of “Sweep! Sweep!” grew louder throughout the third period.
“You want to give them a reason to get riled up,” said Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk. We hope their fun just doesn’t end at the tailgate; we want to bring it inside for them.”