–Biggest thing is that the Hurricanes who could have been flat trying to dial it up again only 40ish hours after Caps series ended found enough to get a game 1 win. The team now has a successful two-game road trip in its pocket and now a chance to really seize control of the series on Sunday.
–Petr Mrazek (and Robin Lehner too) were the story of game 1. By no means was the game an offensive free for all, but there were enough breakaways and point blank chances that this game could many times have ended before overtime.
–Jordan Staal now has three huge goals in three games with the OT game-winner against Isles, the third period tying goal versus Caps and third period game-winner in game 6 versus Caps. He is playing his best offensive hockey in a Hurricanes uniform under the brightest of lights.
–Really liked play of Canes defensemen. Majority of Mrazek heroics were the result of puck management issues and not so much the defensemen’s play. If Canes can clean up puck management at the blue lines and in transition, they have potential to really squeeze the offensive life out of the Islanders.
Shortly before the Hurricanes and Islanders started on Friday night I Tweeted the following:
Really interested to see how #Canes vs. #Isles starts. Isles come in with way too much time off (9 days) and Canes come in with not enough to recover (1 day). Hoping Isles look rusty and Canes just carry playoff rhythm/pace into next round, but we'll see. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 26, 2019
Interestingly, I think that ended up being much ado about nothing. The Islanders did look fresh and did not really look rusty early on. But by the same token, the Hurricanes did not look to be in over their head physically after the grueling Capitals series either. More or less, the game looked like a normal playoff hockey game from the start with no glaring advantages for either team.
I did think the Islanders were the better team early on but not by a huge margin. In the first half of the first period, the Hurricanes held their own in terms of puck possession and the ability to advance the puck but really had very little for scoring chances. One of my concerns early on was the Canes inability to get inside the face-off circles in the offensive zone, but progress was made in that regard as the first period wore on. The Hurricanes best scoring chance early was Brock McGinn getting in alone for a good scoring chance. But as would be repeated throughout the game Robin Lehner had the answer. At the other end of the rink, Petr Mrazek had a slightly tougher workload but also all of the answers. The biggest advantage gained was the Isles in terms of physicality. The fourth line bangers banged away, and the Islanders in general finished checks throughout the first period. But the Hurricanes took things in stride and did not really seem to buckle much under the pressure. The first period ended 0-0 with the Islanders having a modest 11-9 advantage in shots and a larger advantage in terms of physical play. But on the road, the Canes gladly take a 0-0 tie playing their way into the series.
The second period started similarly, but somewhere along the way the Hurricanes seemed to find a higher gear. The forecheck at least had stretches of controlling the game and the team mustered a few more higher-grade scoring chances. The second period really saw the goalies come into play. The style of play was tight in general but both teams had some lapses that generated good scoring chances either in close or off the rush. But Lehner was spectacular, and Mrazek matched him save for save. The period finished still scoreless, but that at least somewhat exaggerated how limited the offense was because of the goalie battle that was developing.
Entering the third period, a single goal winning the game seemed like a very real possibility. And it was also clear that it likely was going to take an ugly goal or a screen or similar to beat either goalie. Even with a couple power plays, the third period was low for volume of shots. But the teams took turns finding good chances here and there, and the goalies just continued taking turns stopping everything. The third period would end with the game still scoreless.
After some back and forth play, the Hurricanes finally seized a victory with a Jordan Staal tally. A chance off the rush saw Nino Niederreiter first take a shot and then make a good play to retrieve the puck. The puck seemed to pinball around until it found Brett Pesce who fired wide (not sure if it was a miss or a pass off the end boards). The carom then found Jordan Staal who quickly fired off the edge of Lehner’s skate and into the net.
For the first time in the playoffs, the Hurricanes on Sunday will play with a series lead.
Player and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
I actually thought Mrazek looked a bit out of sorts early in the game. Even for his aggressive style in terms of movement, he appreaced to overplaying most everything. But he settled down as the game wore on. In a game where one might have figured that the Canes could use help, Mrazek had every bit of it needed. Mrazek was the Canes best player on Friday, and the win was his best effort of the playoffs.
2) Jordan Staal
He had an odd mixed bag of a game but finished to the upside. He had two penalties (the face-off penalty being questionable) but again brought his regular rugged and physical. And his goal was obviously huge. Staal has now scored a huge goal in each of the past three games.
3) Beating them at their own game
One knew coming into the game that the Islanders would be perfectly happy waiting out a 2-1 or even 1-0 win. And defensively the Isles did their part allowing only one goal. But the Hurricanes matched and even beat the Islanders in terms of shutting down the opponent offensively. The Hurricanes did give up a decent number of high-quality chances, but many of those were attributed to puck management errors. If the Hurricanes can clean up their puck management, the potential exists for the Hurricanes to counter-punch in a game that limits scoring chances.
4) Nino Niederreiter
He was more noticeable in game 1 versus the Islanders. He was a one-man wrecking crew on the overtime goal and in general just looked a bit more assertive. Here is hoping that Niederreiter is about to break out in the playoffs.
Next up for the Hurricanes is another day off before a matinee for game 2 on Sunday.