The Carolina Hurricanes are one game away from sweeping the New York Islanders out of the second round, if you can believe it.
They put the Islanders against the ropes with a 5-2 win Wednesday, granting a commanding 3-0 series lead despite what could’ve been a major setback for the Bunch of Jerks.
That setback didn’t play a factor in the Game Three win, with 35-year-old Curtis McElhinney making his first playoff start and becoming the oldest goalie to win his first playoff start. He’s filling in for starter Petr Mrazek, who’s listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury.
And it’s good timing, as the Hurricanes are surging through a playoff run that has to be one for the books.
After going down two games to the Washington Capitals in the first round, Carolina has returned to win seven of their last eight games. Friday night, they’ll have the chance to make that eight of nine and dump the Islanders from the post-season.
The Hurricanes are in this position thanks to a blend of quality goaltending and high-pressure hockey. Wednesday served as yet another exhibition of that, as they kept New York back on their heels for most of the third period and cut down on shots against.
Carolina even pressured Islanders goalie Robin Lehner into making a costly mistake when he went to play the puck behind the net only to have Sebastian Aho steal it and sweep it in front to Justin Williams. And later, Long Island couldn’t get their goalie out of the net for the extra attacker until there was about a minute and a half to go.
The icing on the cake? Two empty-netters for the Hurricanes.
“It’s a big mountain, but we’ve dug in many times this year when people doubted us,” New York head coach Barry Trotz said. “So we’re just going to have to dig in…We have to earn the right to keep playing. That’s it. It’s do or die.”
It is indeed do or die for the Islanders, who have to be feeling a little bit shell-shocked after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the first round. They’ve been overwhelmed against the Hurricanes and haven’t been able to get much by way of offence going against what seems to be an unremitting forecheck. And that’s a tough thing to begin with, what with New York carrying the lowest goals-for average among playoff teams still active.
Carolina will have the chance to close out the sweep Friday at home, while the Islanders are in for the fight of their lives as they try to become the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit since the 2014 edition of the Los Angeles Kings.
(Photo credit: AP/Gerry Broome)