The margin of victory has been tiny, and one could even make a decent case that the Hurricanes do not deserve to be up 2-0 in the series. But we are very clearly at the point in the season where wins and losses trump everything else by a wide margin.
As I said on Twitter after the win:
Said it a couple times in March…One of most striking things about 2019 #Canes is complete transformation from team that always seemed better but somehow lost to a team that just finds a way to win sometimes regardless of level of play. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 29, 2019
An interesting debate could be had about whether this is due to a change in mentality/attitude, the team just being better and benefiting from it or just pure luck. Reality is that it is probably a combination of all three. Regardless of cause, the Hurricanes seem to have this newfound aura of ‘just find a way’ hockey right now.
And find a way, the Hurricanes did on Sunday afternoon…
The game started a bit like game 1 with the Isles pinning their ears back and trying to hit the Hurricanes defensemen hard enough on the boards to convert them into a logo. And that is pretty much what happened two minutes into the game to Trevor van Riemsdyk. He got lined up and pretty much run through the boards on a clean check. The result was his departure with an upper body injury and no return. The Isles again tried to use physical play to get going and for the most part it worked. I thought the Islanders were the better team for most of the first period. And thought it was a bit fluky, the Isles were rewarded for their early advantage when Jaccob Slavin inadvertently deflected a puck into his own net for an Islanders power play goal. One had to wonder if that first goal would enable the dam to break for the Islanders and if the Hurricanes were about to be snowed under. But other than the odd deflection goal, the Islanders were not really able to convert a physical advantage to an offensive advantage. The shot totals for first period were 7 to 3 for the Islanders. More than anything, Isles won the checking battle and to some degree the territorial battle but never really converted that to offense.
After a sluggish first period offensively, the Hurricanes were handed a chance on a platter early in the second period when they had 1:35 of 5-on-3 ice time. The power play looked slow and stagnant and failed to really generate a great chance, and the Hurricanes emerged from it having committed one of hockey’s biggest sins not converting on an extended 5-on-3 power play. Next the Hurricanes suffered another injury setback when Petr Mrazek tweaked something in his lower body early in the second period and yielded the net to Curtis McElhinney. The rest of the second period was a bit more open which might actually have benefited McElhinney who was able to handle the puck a bit and find a rhythm. After an extended layoff during the playoffs, McElhinney looked about like Canes fans remembered from when he was a solid half of a two-goalie rotation. He made a couple good saves early and then built from there. But the Hurricanes were unable to score and exited the first period down 1-0.
Then, it happened. First, Warren Foegele received a nifty indirect pass from Lucas Wallmark to spring him up the side. From the face-off circle on his off side, Foegele labeled a shot for the far side only 13 seconds into the third period. Then probably before the goal had even been announced, the Canes scored again on a nifty Nino Niederreiter tip from the top of the crease. Suddenly just 48 seconds into the third period the Hurricanes were up 2-1. From there, the Hurricanes survived a penalty and three posts on their way to a win. McElhinney was good but was also beaten cleanly on a couple shots that missed by an inch or two. The Hurricanes held on to win 2-1 and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
Player and other notes
1) Curtis McElhinney
His demeanor and style are perfect for a backup goalie. He exudes calm which can be significant for team mates feeling comfortable and not trying to do too much when under pressure. His 17 saves on 17 shots were exactly what the doctor ordered for keeping the Hurricanes in range.
2) Warren Foegele
In a series that has seen only four goals total in two games, every goal is huge. He continues to be a surprise leading scorer in the playoffs.
3) Beating them at their own game
Stylistically, both of the first two games of the series were pretty close and right up the Islanders’ alley. But yet the Isles have nothing to show for either game. The interesting question is what Barry Trotz does with this situation. Calculated would seem to suggest just staying the course. If the Isles players take it upon themselves to adjust, the result could be worse defense not more.
4) Nino Niederreiter
Niederreiter had the other big goal. If he could find a higher gear offensively, the Hurricanes could quickly find a path to more offense.
5) No letting up!
They key at this point is for the Hurricanes to take nothing for granted. Ideal would be for the Hurricanes and the home crowd to dial up another electric atmosphere and then just drive the opponent into the boards.
Up next for the Hurricanes is a much-needed two-day layoff at home before game 3 at PNC Arena on Wednesday night.