Joshua Bailey

Hurricanes top Islanders to take commanding 3-0 series lead

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The Carolina Hurricanes were probably a little fortunate to win the first two games of their Round 2 series against the New York Islanders, and they knew it, too.

And honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. To win a Stanley Cup you need to steal a couple of wins along the way when you are not at your best, and to hear captain Justin Williams talk on Wednesday before the game they all knew they needed to be better in Game 3.

They were, and it was Williams once again scoring a big postseason goal to help lift them to victory.

The Hurricanes were clearly the better team in their 5-2 win to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, pushing the Islanders to the bring of elimination.

Williams scored the game-winner midway through the third period, finishing a great play that started with Sebastian Aho knocking Robin Lehner‘s clearing attempt out of mid-air behind the net.

It was one of a handful of highlight reel plays the Hurricanes made on the net and can be seen in the video above.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The craziest sequence came midway through the second period when Curtis McElhinney, making his first playoff start at the age of 35, made an incredible toe save on the penalty kill to rob Jordan Eberle of what looked to be a sure goal. Just a few moments later, Justin Faulk came out of the penalty box, caught a lob-pass at the blue line, quickly dropped it to the ice, and beat Lehner on a slick move to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.

The Islanders quickly responded with a Joshua Bailey goal to tie the score, but they were never able to get the go-ahead goal and were unable to generate any sustained zone time against a Hurricanes’ defense that played its best game of the series and one of its best games of the playoffs.

This performance came after Williams pretty much challenged his team to be better than they had been earlier in the day.

“I think I take the fact that we grinded out two wins, which is great,” said Williams, via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. “I also take out the fact that I’m a realist and we haven’t played very well. I think that is pretty relevant, and tonight we need to show the Islanders what we’re all about. This is a big game for us. A statement game. A game where we can obviously not put them away but get pretty darned close to the goal that we want. So, in front of our home crowd, we’re going to be ready to go and we’re going to show them what Carolina hockey is tonight.”

They did all of that on Wednesday.

McElhinney, who got the win in Game 2 in relief of an injured Petr Mrazek, stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced to record his second consecutive win.

Teuvo Teravainen scored two goals by starting the scoring in the first period and then adding one of the Hurricanes’ two empty-net goals in the final minute of regulation.

Aho finished with a goal and an assist.

After eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in Round 1, the Hurricanes are now one win from taking their stunning postseason run to the Eastern Conference Final.

The Islanders, after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, are one loss away suffering the same fate if they can not get a win on Friday night.

Game 4 of Hurricanes-Islanders is Friday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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.

Islanders vs. Penguins: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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If you would have told people at the start of the regular season that not only would the Pittsburgh Penguins be playing the New York Islanders in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that the Islanders would be the team with home-ice advantage, you probably would have been laughed at for having such a ridiculous take.

But that is the situation we have in front of us as the two teams meet starting on Wednesday night.

The Penguins were always expected to be here. They have been one of the league’s most successful teams for more than a decade and extended their postseason streak to 13 consecutive seasons. During that time they have played in five Eastern Conference Finals, four Stanley Cup Finals, and won the Stanley Cup three times, including two of the past three years. The playoffs, in the words of defenseman Kris Letang following their postseason clinching win against the Detroit Red Wings, are the bare minimum expectation for this group.

The Islanders, on the other hand, were never supposed to be here. At least not this season.

After missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons and then losing John Tavares over the summer, it seemed like the team and its fans were going to be in for a long, difficult season, even with the hiring of a Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz.

But hockey lends itself to quick and sudden turnarounds like this because it is often times the most unpredictable of the major sports, especially if you get the right performances from the right players at the right position.

Trotz helped improve the league’s worst defensive team, and a stunning goaltending performance from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss helped the team return to the playoffs and challenge for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division all season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

SCHEDULE

Wednesday, April 10, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 12, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 14, 2019, Noon: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins | NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 18, 2019, TBD: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders | TBD
*Saturday, April 20, 2019, TBD: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins | TBD
*Monday, April 22, 2019, TBD: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders | TBD

FORWARDS

PITTSBURGH: Everything obviously begins and ends with the big three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, but it is more than them. Jake Guentzel scored 40 goals this season, the additions of Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann helped solidify the team’s depth, and even though Patric Hornqvist has gone quiet in the second half he can be the type of pest that you will hate by the first period of Game 2 in a best-of-seven series.

NEW YORK: This is now Mathew Barzal‘s team, and even though his numbers took a little bit of a step backwards in year two he is still an elite playmaker and an incredibly exciting player. He is a tremendous building block for any organization. The Islanders have a decent core of top-six forwards around him in Anders Lee, Joshua Bailey, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle, but they enter the playoffs as the lowest-scoring team in the field with only 223 goals. Nashville (236) is the only other team that did not score at least 240.

ADVANTAGE: Pittsburgh, by a lot. This is the one area in this series where one team has a pretty decisive advantage. Barzal is great and the Islanders have some pretty good players around him in Lee, Bailey, Eberle, and Nelson, but the Penguins have superstars and elite scorers up and down their roster.

DEFENSE

PITTSBURGH: The key here for Pittsburgh is going to be the health of Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin. Together, they are as good as it gets in the NHL. In more than 910 minute of 5-on-5 ice-time this season the Penguins outscored teams by a 56-32 margin with them on the ice and controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances. Neither one has been healthy as of late, though, with Letang missing a significant chunk of the final two months and Dumoulin being sidelined for the final four games. There is a significant drop on the blue line after those two, and there is reason to be concerned with both their second-and third-defense pairings.

NEW YORK: The Islanders were one of the worst defensive teams of the modern era a year ago and came back this season to give up the fewest goals in the league. There was a lot of improvement in their defensive play, but they were still only average in terms of shot suppression, 16th in high-danger scoring chances against, and 23rd in total scoring chances against. Better … still not great. Goaltending played a big role in that improvement.

ADVANTAGE: It is probably even. The Islanders do not have anybody on their blue line that compares to Letang (or the pairing he and Dumoulin can form), and that is an edge for Pittsburgh. But they also don’t really have any glaring weaknesses, either, and that can be an advantage for New York.

GOALTENDING

PITTSBURGH: Since returning from injury on December 15 Matt Murray has a .930 save percentage, fifth best in the league among all goalies with at least 20 appearances during that stretch, and a 25-9-5 record. He had a terrible start to the season, but once he returned to health he was everything the Penguins needed him to be and at times in the second half a season-saver for them.

NEW YORK: Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss might be the real MVP’s for the Islanders this season as they combined to form the league’s best goaltending duo and helped turn the Islanders from a defensive laughing stock into league’s best goal prevention team.

ADVANTAGE: Islanders, but barely. Overall the Islanders finished the season with the league’s best overall and even-strength save percentage and took home the Jennings Trophy. The Penguins finished fourth and sixth in those two categories respectively. Murray has the playoff pedigree of being a two-time Stanley Cup winner — while being great in both postseasons — but the Lehner-Greiss duo has been just a little bit better this season. 

ONE BIG QUESTION FOR EACH TEAM

Will Phil Kessel be a difference-maker for Pittsburgh?

When the Penguins were winning the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 Phil Kessel was one of the driving forces behind that success. He has also been one of the best postseason performers of his era, but slumped badly in the postseason a year ago. His 2018-19 season has also been a bizarre one to watch unfold because his overall production has been as good as it has ever been, but he has still found himself in the crosshairs for criticism because he hasn’t always looked good and his even-strength goal-scoring dried up so much. But when he gets rolling he can be one of the best wingers in hockey and he showed signs of getting back to that level down the stretch.

 How can the Islanders match up with the Penguins’ talent at forward?

The Islanders were a tremendous success story this year over 82 games, but when it comes to a best-of-seven series matchups are a huge factor. The big concern here for the Islander is going to be down the middle as they try to match up with the trio of Crosby, Malkin, and Bjugstad. The Penguins definitely have the advantage with the former two, and Bjugstad is no slouch as a third-line center. Valterri Filpulla and Casey Cizikas have had outstanding years compared to the preseason expectations for them, but they are going to have their hands full in this series.

PREDICTION

PENGUINS IN 6. This is going to be a tight, evenly played series that could easily go the distance. The Islanders’ goaltending is going to give them a chance every night, but the Penguins might have just a little too much talent at the top of the lineup for the Islanders to match up with.

MORE PREVIEWS:
• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
 Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Predators vs. Stars
Capitals vs Hurricanes

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.

NHL Trade Deadline: Winners and losers

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We are trying something a little different with this week’s version of the PHT Power Rankings.

Instead of ranking each team on its current play or spot in the standings, we are looking at their performance in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline.

Consider this your winners and losers post because, well, rushing to judgements on trades is one of the most entertaining aspect of trades.

Again, I can not stress enough these power rankings are not a reflection of play on the ice or where they stand based on their performance this season. This is strictly ranking teams based on their roster moves leading up to the NHL trade deadline. 

To the rankings!

The winners

 1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The transformation into the New York Rangers is nearly complete after swinging another massive trade with the blue shirts. They added to an already loaded team by getting Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller without having to give up Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point. Vladislav Namestnikov is a good player, but what is the gap between him and Miller? Miller has also not spent most of the season riding shotgun next to Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

2. Winnipeg Jets — Hoo boy. An already loaded offense that is among the best in the league picks up Paul Stastny. They went years without doing anything of significance in terms of roster transactions them came out of nowhere on trade deadline day to say “yeah, we think this is our year.” Good move.

3. New Jersey Devils — This was a vintage Ray Shero trade deadline performance, swapping some draft picks and a mid-tier prospect for a couple of rentals. But they are good rentals! By adding Michael Grabner they add another speedy winger to a team that already has Taylor Hall and Miles Wood, and Patrick Maroon is scoring at a 25-goal pace again.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets — Thomas Vanek does one thing well at this point in his career: He can produce on the power play. The Blue Jackets have an awful power play. Ian Cole and Mark Letestu (also a pretty good power play option) are also nice additions for relatively little cost.

5. San Jose Sharks — I don’t think I would want Evander Kane on my team (too many headaches and problems and questions off the ice and he’s only okay but not great on it is a bad combination) but he was one of the top rentals available and they did not have to give up a lot to get him. So I guess that makes them a winner.

You paid a lot, but it might be worth it

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — Ian Cole will leave a bit of a hole on defense (especially when that hole is being filled by Matt Hunwick), and Filip Gustavsson is a really good goalie prospect, and they trade first-round picks like they are burning a hole in their pocket, but with Derick Brassard now in the mix after the three-team trade they might have an even better quartet of centers than they did the past two seasons.

7. Nashville Predators — They paid a steep price to get Ryan Hartman, but he is a pretty good player, he is still young, he is still under team control for a while, and even though he will be due for a raise after this season as a restricted free agent the Predators absolutely have the salary cap space to afford him. A really good depth player for a Stanley Cup contender, which the Predators will be for the foreseeable future.

8. Vegas Golden Knights — Their inclusion in the Brassard trade with the Penguins and Ottawa Senators was a little weird, but I admire their apparent strong push to land Erik Karlsson. The big question is should a first-year team that still needs to build an organization from the ground up trade so many draft picks for Tomas Tatar? It is a legitimate question, but Tatar adds another scoring option to a team that already has a deep, well-rounded group of forwards and the best record in the league (based on points percentage). I will allow it.

9. Boston Bruins — Given the price of rentals they paid a pretty steep one for Rick Nash, but he’s still a really good two-way player that can help in all three phases of the game. I am not sure what Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels will do for them, but Nash is a good pickup for a team that has a legitimate shot to win it all.

The Sellers that did well

10. Chicago Blackhawks — Hartman could have been someone that was around for a while, but if his value is a first-round draft pick and a decent prospect you would be crazy not to cash that in when you have the chance. They did a nice job replenishing the draft pick cupboard by picking up four picks over the next two years.

11. New York Rangers — They turned Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Nick Holden into six draft picks (including two first-round picks and a second-round pick that could become another first) and eight other players. That is a lot of assets coming into the organization. The key questions though are whether or not any of those eight players are high upside players that can be a part of a rebuild, and what they do with those draft picks. That’s a lot of first-round picks, but they could all be really late first-rounders which don’t really carry a ton of value.

12. Detroit Red Wings — Not getting anything for Mike Green is a little tough but that may have been out of their control. His health was a concern, he had a big say in where he could go, and there just may not have been a huge market. They did add a ton of draft picks for Tatar and Petr Mrazek. They now have eight picks in the first four rounds of the 2018 draft and another six in the first round rounds of the 2019 draft. They have to rebuild sooner or later and they now have a ton of draft pick currency.

You didn’t hurt yourself

13. Philadelphia Flyers — They added Petr Mrazek, mostly out of desperation, and did nothing else of note other than claiming Johnny Oduya on waivers. That’s okay. The Flyers are a really good team that is playing extremely well over the past three months and has a lot of young talent. No need to mess with it right now. Their window is just opening.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs — Tomas Plekanec is a nice depth addition to a team that could use a responsible, veteran forward in its bottom-six.

15. Washington Capitals — They didn’t make the big trade they have been accustomed to making in recent seasons and instead went for a couple of depth moves on defense. Not the worst case scenario. They may not be as good as their record and you don’t want to do something crazy in a season where you are probably more than one player away. You don’t want to trade Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat. Again.

16. Los Angeles Kings — Dion Phaneuf is a fraction of what he used to be but he will probably give them a little more value than Marian Gaborik would have, and Tobias Rieder adds a little bit of speed and upside to a lineup that was lacking in both of those things.

17. Montreal Canadiens — Their standing here is mostly do to the fact that they did not trade Max Pacioretty at a point where his value is so low. They really didn’t do much of significance. Maybe Mike Reilly can be okay? Basically I am just giving Marc Bergevin credit for not doing something that would hurt the team.

18. Florida Panthers — Frank Vatrano is a pretty decent buy-low gamble. Maybe a fresh start and a change of scenery where he can play a bigger role helps him realize some of that potential.

19. Arizona Coyotes — They sold Rieder at what might be a lowpoint, which isn’t ideal, but they did end up with a pretty good goaltending option in Darcy Kuemper.

The incompletes

20. Calgary Flames — Does Nick Shore for a seventh-round draft pick do much for you? No? Good. It shouldn’t. They did add Chris Stewart on waivers so I guess that is something.

21. Carolina Hurricanes — Every year we are told this could be the year Jeff Skinner gets traded, then he never gets traded. That is actually a good thing for the Hurricanes because Jeff Skinner is really good. Their only move was a minor league deal to send Josh Jooris to Pittsburgh for Greg McKegg.

22. Colorado Avalanche — They traded Chris Bigras for Ryan Graves. I have nothing else to add.

23. Dallas Stars — They did nothing. Nothing to see here.

24. Minnesota Wild — They lost Stewart on waivers and traded Reilly for a draft pick. Nashville and Winnipeg loaded up in their division in an arms race. At the moment, they would have to get through those two teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Oof.

What is happening here?

25. Ottawa Senators — They deserve their own category because I really do not know where to put them. They did pretty well for Brassard by getting a first-round pick and a really good goalie prospect, and they were able to flip Cole for another pick and prospect as an extension of that trade tree, but there are still a ton of questions here. The Karlsson situation remains unresolved and it is hard to imagine his value increasing at the draft when the team trading for him is guaranteed even less time with him. The rest of the team remains in place. Maybe you have not noticed but the rest of the team kind of stinks at the moment.

The losers

26. New York Islanders — You have John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee all having great seasons. You have an offense that can score goals at a level few teams can match. You had all season to do something to fix the shortcomings on defense and in net. You traded Jason Chimera for a younger version of Jason Chimera, and also traded a draft pick for a defenseman that was available on waivers a couple of months ago. Something tells me those Snow Must Go chants will not be going away anytime soon at the Barclays Center.

27. Edmonton Oilers — Maroon is a 20-25 goal forward, carries a relatively decent salary cap hit for the rest of this season, and all Edmonton has to show for him is a mid-level prospect and a third-round draft pick two drafts from now. Their trade deadline consisted of them trading Maroon, Letestu, and Brandon Davidson for Pontus Aberg, J.D. Dudek and two draft picks in 2019.

Actually, this might be the most damning statement of all when it comes to the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers.

28. St. Louis Blues — One point out of a playoff spot and they trade one of their top scorers for futures. That six-game losing streak where the offense has disappeared is not sitting well with the front office it would seem.

29. Buffalo Sabres — Evander Kane was supposed to be one of the top rentals available and their return does not even guarantee them a first-round draft pick. They also got a 24-year-old “prospect” and a mid-round draft pick. Not sure if that says more about the Sabres front office or Evander Kane.

30. Vancouver Canucks — Jim Benning said he would have preferred a draft pick in the trade for Thomas Vanek but there just wasn’t an opportunity to get that. There were 18 draft picks that exchanged hands across the league on Monday alone. A team in the bottom-five in the standings re-signed Erik Gudbranson, traded Vanek for a marginal prospect and a player that is actually older than Vanek, and did nothing else.

31. Anaheim Ducks — They traded for a 38-year-old forward (Chimera) that has two goals and 11 total points in 58 games this season and signed a 35-year-old forward (Chris Kelly) that has seven goals and seven assists in 93 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season and managed zero goals and only two assists in 15 games in the AHL this season, presumably because he had a couple of good games in the Olympics against non-NHL talent.

MORE: PHT’s 2018 Trade Deadline Tracker.

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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.