–Somewhat like game 3, the Hurricanes found a higher gear and attacked in the second period. Once that happened, the Hurricanes were the better team, and that showed up on the scoreboard.
–For the second straight Canes series win, Sebastian Aho had his most productive game of the series. His goal was an own goal by the Isles defenseman, but Aho still deserves credit for getting the puck to the net and following his shot. He also collected a second assist on the pretty tic-tac toe passing play that ended with Teuvo Teravainen’s goal.
–Great to see Greg McKegg rewarded with a goal. He has been a consistently solid foot soldier throughout the playoffs. The fourth line was arguably the team’s best in game 3 and continued to play well in game 4, so it was a just reward to see the line finally net a goal.
–The Canes defense was the story of this series. Especially playing with a lead, the Hurricanes gave the Islanders very little in terms of scoring chances. Slavin continues to be the team’s best player, but the blue line group in total is the team’s greatest strength right now ranking just a tiny bit above the forecheck simply because the defense has proven capable of holding the fort during gaps in the forechecking effectiveness.
With a 3-0 series leading entering Friday night, the Hurricanes had mostly made themselves exempt from any pressure. But in situations like this good teams have a killer instinct and press to finish things off without offering even the slightest bit of hope to an opponent down on their luck. As a young team, the potential was definitely there for this game to become a learning experience.
My hope was that the Hurricanes would pick right up where they left off in dominating the third period of game 3. That did not happen. The Hurricanes were not horrible, but the Islanders were the better team out of the gate. Early in the game, the Isles were buzzing in the offensive zone, and Curtis McElhinney seemed to be just blocking shots with no ability to control rebounds. A couple Islanders chances went by the wayside early, but then Andrei Svechnikov took a minor penalty to give the Islanders an even better chance. Sure enough, the Isles capitalized when Mathew Barzal banged home yet another McElhinney rebound. But the resilient Hurricanes answered back when Sebastian Aho was credited with a power play goal when an Islanders player scored an own goal on his rebound. The positive in the first period was the Hurricanes defense’s ability to hold the Islanders at bay despite the fact that the Canes were on their heels a bit in the first period.
Then somewhat like the third period of game 3, the Hurricanes did some combination of finding a higher gear and/or just opportunistically finishing plays in the second period. The surge started with a pretty passing play only 2:11 into the period when Sebastian Aho fed Warren Foegele from the end line to the slot and Foegele quickly wired a pass to Teuvo Teravainen who finished into half of an open net before Robin Lehner could get across. That makes consecutive games in which Foegele made heady passes to trigger a go-ahead goal. Barely over a minute later, Greg McKegg was finally rewarded with a goal when Lehner could not find a rebound and McKegg pounced to score from the crease. The second period scoring surge concluded with a Justin Williams goal seven minutes later. By the midway point of the period, the Hurricanes had the game in hand at 4-1 which is how the period would end. In this bizarre alternate universe, the Carolina Hurricanes are now one of those teams that can just hang around for awhile and then strike suddenly with precision and win a hockey game with a short burst of attack.
The front part of the third period was maybe too much of what one might expect with a three-goal lead. The Hurricanes mostly made safe plays to clear pucks out of their own end or push pucks back behind the Islanders net. And to their credit, the Islanders did not quit but instead pushed. But as had been the case all series, the Islanders getting the upper hand did not really translate to offense. The Hurricanes defense did a decent job of giving up the minimum and McElhinney made most of his best saves in the third period as the sand in the hour glass on the Islanders 2018-19 season sifted away. The Hurricanes ultimately pushed to 5-1 when Justin Faulk fed a streaking Andrei Svechnikov for a goal. The final was 5-2 after an odd bobble of a goal by the Islanders in the waning moments of the game.
If I were to summarize the series in terms of level of play, I would say that the series was much more evenly played than the 4-0 sweep would indicate. Each of the first two games in New York was a 50/50 game. Most of games 3 and 4 were even two, but the Hurricanes did rightfully come out on top by virtue of one huge period in each game. The biggest difference was opportunistic scoring. Whereas the Hurricanes seemed to have a knack for generating and finishing chances, the Isles just did not.
Player and other notes
1) Warren Foegele
In the Caps series, Foegele stepped up and scored a batch of ugly goals when the team desperately needed them to climb back into the series. Against the Islanders, he generated goals with nifty playmaking plays. He is rapidly building a reputation as a player whose game steps up a couple notches in the playoffs.
2) Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
His ups and downs in the playoffs are well-documented, but for the second time in a game with a chance to eliminate the opponent, he had a productive night with a goal and an assist. Teuvo Teravainen also had another two-point night. I think Teravainen is becoming the Jaccob Slavin of the forwards in that he is playing really good hockey but in a fairly quiet way and is collecting a decent amount of points, again without fireworks, in the process. Teravainen’s six goals in eleven games ranks first on the team and is an impressive 44 goal pace prorated over 82 games.
3) The blue line
Whereas I thought the forecheck was the story of the Capitals series, I think the defensive play by the blue line was the story of the Islanders series. Regardless of whether the Hurricanes were winning or losing in terms of puck possession and offensive zone time, the defense was solid and gave up very little. The result was that an Isles team that does not have a ton of high end scoring talent was forced to earn each and every chance and goal. The result was very few of those. Give Jaccob Slavin the series MVP, but do not forget to give credit to each and every other defenseman too. Justin Faulk had another strong game and led the team with 27:07, and Brett Pesce put forward another yawner in which it seemed like nothing exciting ever happened on his end of the ice in the defensive zone.
4) A much-needed break
There are pros and cons to anything past about three days off during the NHL playoffs, but I think the Hurricanes will mostly benefit from layoff in front of them. With the Bruins and Blue Jackets tied at 2-2 and scheduled to play Saturday, Monday and then Wednesday if necessary, the Hurricanes will have 4-6 days off before their next game. I think that will be beneficial in terms of recharging for the second half of the Stanley Cup push. Though the Hurricanes deserve credit for resiliency and finding away, I thought the peak version against the Capitals was higher than the peak version against the Islanders. A couple days off should do wonders for the team to recharge and heal any minor bumps or bruises. In addition, the time off would seemingly make Micheal Ferland and Petr Mrazek available again and also reach very close to when Saku Maenalanen could return. That would get the Canes back to a full roster at forward and in net with only Trevor van Riemsdyk still out on defense.
5) Help for the Checkers
The series sweep will also be a big win for the Charlotte Checkers playoff push. The Checkers should now get Alex Nedeljkovic and Jake Bean back for at least a couple games. Especially Nedeljkovic should make a more permanent return assuming that Mrazek is in fact healthy and ready to go when the Canes return to the ice.
The ‘next up’ is uncertain obviously. The Bruins and Blue Jackets are tied up. The range for a next game should be Wednesday through Friday. Wednesday or Thursday should happen if the Bruins/Jackets finish in six games on Monday. If that series pushes to seven games, then the start would likely push back to Friday. In addition, the Hurricanes would have home ice advantage against the Blue Jackets and start at home but would start on the road against the Bruins.