The Carolina Hurricanes continued to dig even deeper into their bag of magic in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, stealing an overtime victory along with home ice from the New York Islanders.
While most expected the series to be filled with tight, defensive games, Friday’s 1-0 outcome certainly featured enough chances to be 3-3 headed to overtime instead of 0-0. But with the opening salvo fired by Jordan Staal in the extra session, the Canes assured themselves of returning to their fans in Raleigh at worst with a 1-1 series.
The Great - Petr the Great
It is undeniable that Game 1 belongs squarely to Petr Mrazek in net. His second shutout of the playoffs has the Hurricanes off and running in the second round, and sets the tone for the type of series that many expect to see between two tremendously talented, defensive teams.
Mrazek, as well as Robin Lehner on the other end, managed to put up goose-eggs in regulation. But make no mistake, this was not a game devoid of chances. Mrazek earned his shutout over the 31 shots he faced. His first period snag of a Josh Bailey backhand on a breakaway may have been his best of the day.
Petr Mrazek. Larcenous on Josh Bailey. pic.twitter.com/10Umz3kKvq— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 26, 2019
The hallmark for Mrazek in the night was his vision and decisiveness in net. His save on Valtteri Fillpula on a nifty passing play from the Isles was indicative of how locked-in Mrazek was all evening.
The second period featured an early flurry from the Isles that led to plenty of pressure within the Canes defensive zone. But the most important play of the second period was with just under three minutes remaining in the period. Off an offensive zone faceoff win, the Isles appeared to finally break the ice as Mathew Barzal smacked a rebound off the boards into the back of the net. The officials waved off the goal however, as Anders Lee was sent off for goalie interference, and with that, the biggest bullet of the day was dodged.
There were plenty of saves, but what stood out the most was the aggressiveness from Mrazek. His movement and athleticism continue to be his greatest asset. Going forward, the Canes will need similar efforts in net.
The Rock Solid - Jordan Staal comes up big again
When the Canes went on their first significant run of the season, beginning around Christmas, Jordan Staal was not a part of the turnaround. His extended absence was a consistent point of disbelief from Rod Brind’Amour in terms of how his team was capable of functioning so well without him. Prior to the injury, Staal had not exhibited the offensive production that his coach believed he possessed. That offensive production has reappeared during this current playoff run, and it has been the life-blood of his team. With the go-ahead goal in Game 6 against Washington, the tying goal in game 7, and now the only goal in the OT win in Game 1, Staal has simply been the most indispensable forward for the Canes.
Jordan Staal on the ricochet. Game over. The Hurricanes steal game one in New York, 1-0 final score in overtime. Canes take a 1-0 series lead. pic.twitter.com/K8ncZKK8eg— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 27, 2019
At times in his Carolina career, Staal’s calling card has been that of a shutdown defensive center. But his play down the stretch and in the playoffs have shown that Staal is capable of playing the type of heavy, strong, possession-based game that succeeds in the playoffs. With his size and current hot stick, Staal has become a matchup nightmare for the defensive-minded Isles and Barry Trotz.
The Expected - Time to settle in for a grind
No doubt the Canes were thrilled to get an early jump in this series, knowing how weary they currently are, and the type of series they expect to have ahead of them. The Canes were slightly outhit on Friday (44-38), but the physical game has been the sustained trademark for the Isles in their transformation to become a tough, defensive team.
There were plenty of chances on Friday for a higher-scoring game, but each netminder was up to the challenge (and then some), but as the series moves forward, most expect a significant price will have to be paid to earn every offensive chance. Entering the zone and sustaining possession anywhere near the boards will continue to be a monumental task.
The best chances on Friday were generated in the same way that they will likely occur the rest of the series: Off turnovers. Managing the puck will remain the top priority for both teams as this gritty divisional battle continues. With a matinee upcoming on Sunday, there is still not much rest ahead for the Canes. But with the extra day off between Sunday and the return to Raleigh for Game 3 on Wednesday, Carolina will earn some much needed rest.
Moral of the Story
Thanks to a tired team that found some way to yet again come through in overtime, the Canes now know that they will return home at no worse than even in the series. But now, Game 2 represents a tremendous opportunity for the Canes to take command of the series. Will they have enough juice left in the orange to bring home yet another win from the Big Apple? We will find out on Sunday.