Anders Lee

Hurricanes end Islanders’ magical run with sweep

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The New York Islanders exceeded just about all expectations this season, and getting swept doesn’t erase all of the great memories, but the run is now over.

After the Islanders swept the Penguins in Round 1, they suffered that fate against the comparably magical Carolina Hurricanes, who managed an emphatic 5-2 Game 4 win to clinch the series 4-0.

For much of this Round 2 feud, every goal and bounce seemed to count. The Hurricanes won both games in Brooklyn despite only scoring three goals combined, and things were tight going into the third period of Game 3, as both teams were tied 2-2.

The Hurricanes really ran away with the series from that point on, though.

Carolina scored three third-period goals to win Game 3 by a score of 5-2, and convincingly closed down the sweep with another 5-2 win in Game 4. Overall, the Hurricanes scored eight of the last 10 goals to end the Islanders’ season, limiting the Islanders to just five goals overall in Round 2.

It really felt like the series was over once the Hurricanes transformed a 1-1 tie to a 3-1 lead with two quick goals in the second period, chasing Robin Lehner in the process.

Curtis McElhinney looks sharp since replacing an injured Petr Mrazek in Game 3, making 26 saves to close this one out. It’s a testament to McElhinney’s work, as he’s been a gem since the Hurricanes claimed him off of waivers. It’s also a testament to the Hurricanes that they’ve weathered so many injuries without really missing a beat.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen remain red-hot for the Hurricanes, as both generated one-goal, one-assist point nights in Game 4. They factored into the first goals of Game 4, when things were still looking very close. Those two are becoming more prominent to casual hockey fans during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and at this rate, could become household names.

Ending this series quickly could be huge for Carolina

Getting this sweep isn’t just about the optics of a perfect round.

The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes are currently locked up at 2-2, and the earliest that Round 2 series can end is on Monday. (The two teams bid for a 3-2 series lead in Game 5 on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC; Stream here).

The Hurricanes were battered thanks to that seven-game series against the Capitals, with Andrei Svechnikov missing most of Round 2 because of that ill-fated fight with Alex Ovechkin, while Jordan Martinook and Micheal Ferland also suffered injuries. That only continued against the Islanders; Petr Mrazek’s injury was the most significant of the series, while Trevor van Riemsdyk and Saku Mäenalanen also missed time.

From players who were playing flat-out injured to those who were simply less than 100 percent, this break is big.

And, yes, this means the Hurricanes avoid games where they could have suffered new injuries. Sure, you can make a “rest versus rust” argument, but I’d be confident this is a net-positive for Carolina.

[The Hurricanes discussed finishing this heading into Game 4.]

Islanders run out of gas

Barry Trotz’s system can throw offense in a wood chipper. Even stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can struggle to score against a Trotz team when it really clamps down.

That said, the Islanders often had to walk a tightrope where they had very little margin of error. Maybe the Hurricanes’ strong defensive personnel and deep rotation of two-way players simply presented a bad matchup for the Islanders. Perhaps Lehner and others were tired. It could be that the bounces dried up.

And that’s what GM Lou Lamoriello and others need to grapple with. This was a magical, affirming run, but he also must do his best to take a sober look at this team once the sadness from the sweep dissipates.

Is this club in more of a “rebuild” mode like people anticipated when John Tavares left for Toronto? How much should they weigh their success with troubling thoughts, such as only managing five goals in that entire series against the Hurricanes? Are they a few moves from being a contender, and thus should spend big to keep some key players from leaving? Lehner is on a list of pending free agents who could put a dent in the wallet, joined by prominent names such as Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson.

[Dive into the big decisions the Isles face here.]

For now, though, it’s all about mixed feelings. After finally winning a Stanley Cup, Trotz may have indeed topped himself with the work he did with the Islanders, and is almost certain to win the Jack Adams as a result. Sweeping the Penguins proved to be an emphatic statement. By my eyes, Mathew Barzal also confirmed his status as a legitimate star after his sensational Calder-winning 2017-18 season. Islanders fans had to love this ride, whether they were jeering Tavares or their team’s many doubters.

But for now, the magic’s over; we’ll have to wait and see if the Islanders have even more tricks up their sleeves. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, await the Bruins or Blue Jackets in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Isles turn to Greiss in Game 4?

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Well, this is it for the New York Islanders. They’re officially in must-win territory heading into Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

Now that their backs are against the wall, head coach Barry Trotz admits that changes could be coming to the lineup tonight. That’s normal considering the predicament they’re in right now. But the interesting twist here, is that Trotz said he’s considering tweaks “at all positions,” including between the pipes.

So, the team that’s scored three goals in the first three games of their series is thinking about swapping out a goaltender who has allowed six goals. Changing goaltenders isn’t necessarily based of performance either, though. It could just be a way to get his players’ attention, but it’s probably not the right way to go about it. Nothing against Thomas Greiss, but Robin Lehner deserves to stay in the net with the season on the line.

The biggest issue for the Islanders, is that they simply can’t find the back of the net. No team is good enough defensively to score three goals in three games and have a series lead. No one. Trotz should take a page for Stars head coach Jim Montgomery’s book and make the necessary changes to his forward lines.

Ahead of Game 4, Montgomery decided to move Roope Hintz to the top line with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin dropped down to the second line with Mats Zuccarello and Jason Dickinson. The result? Every one of those players showed up and made a difference in a crucial game.

That’s what Trotz has to do.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He has to figure out a way to get his team’s attention by mixing up lines. Is it time to break up the best fourth line in hockey? How do you get Anders Lee going? Mathew Barzal has just one goal in three games. If he doesn’t get going, there’s no way they can come back to win this series. Where has Jordan Eberle gone? He scored in every game in the first round, but he hasn’t found the back of the net against Carolina.

Trotz isn’t exactly in an enviable position given how quiet this offense has been. But we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he came in to New York and turned this team into a 100-point squad in short order. That’s not to say that you have to believe the Isles are coming back in this series, but you can’t bury them yet.

“There’s 23 teams that would love to be playing (tonight), and they’re not,” Trotz said, per NHL.com. “You get an opportunity. You can’t look back. You can’t correct what’s already done; you can only correct what’s right in front of you. (Tonight’s) a chance to start correcting it in the right way. Focus on that. It’s always a great opportunity. You’re still alive.”

MORE: Hurricanes aiming to close out Islanders as quick as possible

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Top 30 free agents; Golden Knights could make changes

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 1

• What type of statistics should you expect from your backup goalie? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Washington Capitals will have to shed some salary if they’re going to add to their talented roster. (CSN Washington)

Morgan Rielly has to be the front-runner to be the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Toronto Star)

• How has Anders Lee performed in the playoffs for the Islanders this year? (Lighthouse Hockey)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins have a rich history with the Hart Trophy. (Pensburgh)

• Like soccer, the NHL might have a diving problem. (Bleedin Blue)

• The Golden Knights roster could look very different heading into next season. (Las Vegas Sun)

• The fact that the Oilers will have a new GM this summer makes their offseason plan unpredictable right now. (Oilers Nation)

• The Hockey News breaks down the top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2019. (The Hockey News)

Cale Makar went from playing college hockey to jumping into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a hurry. (ESPN)

• We can start thinking about Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby‘s next contracts. (Washington Post)

• The Lightning can’t use the laundry list of upsets in the playoffs as a “get out of jail free” card. (Tampa Bay Times)

Aaron Ekblad had a relatively quiet season, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t productive for the Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

• The Detroit News ranked the top 50 Red Wings in order of organizational value. (Detroit News)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Hurricanes rally around injuries, take 2-0 series lead vs. Islanders

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It’s almost as if adversity galvanizes the Carolina Hurricanes, with every blow bringing the team closer together in their fight for the Stanley Cup.

These particular playoffs — their first in a decade — haven’t been kind to the Hurricanes, who entered the game already without Andrei Svechnikov, Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook. Injuries didn’t halt their progress in Round 1, winning a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals despite missing some key pieces.

And while three more names were added to that growing list — queue up that one Drowning Pool song — Carolina banded together to come from behind as they took a 2-0 Round 2 series lead against the New York Islanders after a 2-1 win on Sunday.

“It’s not easy, that’s for sure, because you’re asking a lot of guys that are out of their comfort zone and doing things they don’t normally do,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’amour said following the game. “But that’s playoffs, that’s part of it. It is a war of attrition a lot of times in the playoffs. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

Trevor van Riemsdyk was gone just 36 seconds into the game and Petr Mrazek followed suit in the second period as he slid from across his crease on an apparent non-contact injury. Saku Maenalanen was the third body to hit the trainer’s table, with his injury happening in the third period after providing a big assist.

“That’s tough, but hopefully those guys will heal up quickly,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t been playing that are ready to step in and do their job.”

That’s six injuries and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Raleigh, with a much needed extra day off in between.

Carolina’s ability to deal with the ebbs and flows of a game is remarkable at this point.

Sunday’s game was tight through two periods the Islanders took a 1-0 lead from Mathew Barzal on the power play, New York’s first goal on the man-advantage in their past 10 tries.

In the second, before Mrazek was replaced by Curtis McElhinney, the Hurricanes failed to produce on an extended 5-on-3. Mrazek’s injury soon after must have felt like a kick to the ribs while they were already lying on the floor.

But somewhere between there and the beginning of the third, Carolina regrouped.

Warren Foegele‘s fifth came just 17 seconds into the period to tie the game and the Hurricanes had a 2-1 lead just 48 seconds later when Nino Niederreiter put the perfect tip on a point shot for his first of the playoffs.

“Leadership in that room,” Brind’amour said. “It’s simple. Jordan Staal. Justin Williams. Jaccob Slavin. Those are our best players every night. They’re leading a group and they don’t have a choice but to follow these guys.”

Brind’Amour figured Mrazek’s injury was similar to the one he picked up back in November, one that forced him to miss a month of action. Yikes.

McElhinney proved to be a formidable backup. He had just 82 minutes of playoff experience heading into this game but he was up to the task, making 17 saves in relief.

One wonders how long the Hurricanes can be without such a large contingent of their roster. Game 3 could conceivably look like the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s Amerian Hockey League affiliate) are getting a game in the playoffs depending on the severity of the ailments. And the Islanders had their chances in the third, with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock both hitting he crossbar and Anders Lee narrowly missing an open net on Pulock’s rebound.

For now, however, we’ll continue to believe that the Hurricanes can manage in some of the most unappealing situations. They’ve done it so far. Why doubt them?

Game 3 goes Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN from PNC Arena. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Staal’s OT goal lifts Hurricanes to Game 1 win over Islanders

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After scoring the game-tying goal in the third period of their Game 7 win in Round 1, Jordan Staal scored another massive goal for the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night when he scored at the 4:04 mark of overtime to lift his team to a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders, giving them an early 1-0 lead in the series.

It is Staal’s fourth goal of the playoffs and capped off a defensive slugfest that was highlighted by great goaltending, close calls, and a couple of premature celebrations for Islanders fans that probably only added to their frustration in the loss.

Maybe it was just a feeling out process between two teams that are new to this stage.

Or maybe it was the result of the Islanders still shaking off the rust from a week-long layoff and the Hurricanes still trying to come down from a double overtime Game 7 in Washington.

Or perhaps it was simply the play of goalies Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek (or more accurately a combination of all three factors), but offense was nearly impossible to come by on Friday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both goalies made stunning stops on breakaways, with Mrazek making a beautiful glove save to rob Josh Bailey in the first period, and Lehner stoning Greg McKegg in the second period with a sprawling toe save. 

The Islanders had two other close calls throughout the night.

In the second period, Mathew Barzal appeared to score when he deposited the puck into an open net only to have it immediately called back because of a goaltender interference penalty on Anders Lee, even though Lee appeared to be shoved into Mrazek by Carolina’s Lucas Wallmark.

With under six minutes to play in regulation, Ryan Pulock blasted a one-timer that sounded the goal horn at the Barclays Center and ignited the crowd, only for everyone to realize the puck did not actually go in, but was instead lodged on the outside of the net.

They never really came close to scoring after that.

After sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, this is the Islanders’ first loss of the 2019 playoffs.

Game 2 of Hurricanes-Islanders will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.