They say old habits die hard, and that was true on Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders played a game that looked a heck of a lot like the high-scoring shootouts the two teams combined for a season ago.
In a Metropolitan division where teams are as tightly packed as the vehicles clogging up the Long Island Expressway, the Hurricanes entered tonight’s contest against the Islanders two points behind their opponent with a game in hand.
The Islanders got the first big opportunity of the game when Josh Jooris was whistled for taking down Josh-Ho Sang in the corner of the Carolina zone. The killing effort started strong, but the Islanders started to get some good looks when they hemmed Carolina in the zone for an extended amount of time. The Canes were finally able to get relief when Joakim Nordstrom finally chopped the puck out, which for all intents and purposes ended the power play.
The majority of the first period was spent with the two teams playing rather conservatively, neither one wanting to be the one to make the first costly error. And after how some of the games between these two teams went a season ago, you could hardly blame them.
That was until New York’s talented rookie forward, Matthew Barzal broke in on a 2-on-1 against Noah Hanifin and Scott Darling. He looked Darling off a little bit, and then fired it past him low to give the Islanders a 1-0 advantage.
The Hurricanes quickly came across a chance to level the score when Anders Lee took a penalty, but a fluky bounce right off the opening face-off of the advantage sent Cal Clutterbuck all alone on a breakaway, and he muscled one past Darling upstairs to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead.
But before the PA announcer had even finished announcing the Islanders first goal, the Hurricanes had re-established themselves in the Islander zone on the power play. Sebastian Aho took the puck from the point, and discreetly unfurled a wrister through traffic that was deflected by Elias Lindholm and went over Thomas Greiss to cut the lead to one. Teuvo Teravainen also picked up an assist on the goal.
But the suddenly-wild first period wasn’t done by any stretch. Once the Isles had the puck again, Nick Leddy took a slap shot from the point that caught Darling’s glove, but since Darling’s glove didn’t catch it, it bounced up behind him and into the net.
And finally, at the end of one, it was 3-1 Islanders. Shots on goal at the end of the period were 14-9, also in favor of the Islanders.
“I just thought we played slow,” head coach Bill Peters said of the period. “I didn’t think we had much jump. I didn’t think we had any execution on the first time we touched it; we had to do everything the hard way.”
After the Hurricanes had a strong start to the second, they got rewarded when a deflection off a skate in front left the puck right by an open net for Noah Hanifin who was rounding the net; Hanifin swept the puck into the yawning cage to make it a 3-2 game.
Almost immediately following that goal, Brock Nelson took an offensive zone penalty which sent the Canes back to another power play. There would be no immediate shorthanded goal this time for New York, and while Carolina created a couple good looks, they weren’t able to use the man advantage to tie the game.
With some momentum built up, Jooris took another penalty to give the Islanders a chance to re-claim their two goal lead. The penalty kill did their job once again, and this time, Jooris was sprung for a breakaway out of the box. Greiss came up big for his team, though, to preserve the Islander lead.
The penalty-happy second period continued when Clutterbuck was guilty of a slash against Victor Rask. The power pay once again was not bad but also wasn’t all that dangerous either, and that resulted in another kill for the Isles.
Shortly thereafter, though Carolina would find an equalizer, as some hard work at the net front paid off for the McGinn-Ryan-Williams line, when Ryan won a battle in front of the net, spun around, and muscled a backhander along the ice that somehow made it through Greiss.
After a rocky first, the Hurricanes were putting on an all-around clinic in the second to this point. They were possessing the puck well at even strength, looking great when tested on the penalty kill, and finishing the opportunities they generated. They also held a 9-3 advantage in shots by the time the last TV timeout of the period rolled around.
That all paid off once again when in the waning moments of the period, the TSA line worked their magic again. Jordan Staal completely manhandled Barzal in his attempt to exit the zone, which left the puck free for Teravainen who whistled the puck over to Aho for an easy one-time goal. That one was definitely his.
“I think we can read each other and we all can make some plays,” Aho said of his line. “We try to play just a fast game.”
“Those guys are good,” Staal added. “They know what to do when they’ve got the puck, and they know how to find holes and create plays. Those two played great tonight again.”
The period ended with the Hurricanes holding a 4-3 lead while the Islanders had them beat in shots by a narrow 22-21 margin.
“I think we played fast enough and we made some plays there, and I think that’s the reason why we played so well in the second period,” Aho said.
When the third period got underway, Justin Williams had an opportunity to give Carolina an insurance goal on a partial break, but he wasn’t able to accelerate enough to get himself past the defenseman.
Later on, Hanifin was guilty of high-sticking, giving the Islanders their best chance to tie the game to that point in the third. They were able to do so, when Josh Bailey was able to corral a pass off the stick of Barzal that had made a couple other stops off sticks on the way. Bailey was able to put it past Darling, who was thrown off by all the deflections.
Darling recovered moments later when he made a big stop on former Hurricane Andrew Ladd on a 2-on-1.
The Hurricanes had a couple good chances to grab a lead, but Johnny Boychuk gave the Islanders, who entered tonight 0-6-1 when trailing after two, the lead on a slap shot from outside the circles that Darling probably could have had.
The Hurricanes made a solid push right after the goal, but Greiss and the Islanders held strong to claim a big victory in regulation. An empty-net goal by Jordan Eberle would put the icing on the cake.
“We just got outworked in the third,” Jordan Staal said. “We just stopped skating... and they continued to play a great game in the end and found ways to score goals to get ahead.”
The two teams will reconvene for their second meeting of the year on Sunday in Raleigh, but each team will take a detour and play a game on Saturday. The Islanders take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay, while the Hurricanes travel to Buffalo for a contest with the Sabres.
“We gotta look at how we’ve been successful here leading up to tonight, we were successful by playing 60 minutes and being able to have the ability to roll all four lines and finding a way to have everyone make a positive contribution,” Peters said. “Tonight we didn’t have that and weren’t able to do that.”
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