Just when you think the Carolina Hurricanes have dug as deep as they can to pull out yet another gutty victory, they dig even deeper out of necessity. That is exactly what they did on Sunday afternoon as they snatched a 2-1 win away from the New York Islanders and now return home to PNC Arena with a commanding 2-0 series lead.
The Good - Patience leads to a burst of offense
The Canes did not put together the most complete offensive performance you will see from a team in the playoffs. But with a fourth line completely manned by players who spent most of the season in Charlotte, it is hard to expect much in terms of offensive punch at times. What the Canes did do was remain patient in their game. They continued to be fundamentally sound, getting pucks deep into the zone and forcing the Islanders to work the puck out of their own end. As the game stabilized late in the second period with the score at just 1-0 Isles, the Canes began to generate chances that proved to be a harbinger of what was to come in the third.
Tie game. Warren Foegele swoops down the wing and snipes it by Lehner. Great pass from Wallmark. pic.twitter.com/Y8bb3WnCMk— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 28, 2019
Like two cracks of lightning, the Canes struck twice in just 48 seconds to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. A lead they would never relinquish. It got started just 17 seconds into the third with Warren Foegele doing his best “Jordan Staal Game 7” impersonation, beating Robin Lehner stick side with a shot from right wing. The offensive storm concluded with the Canes quickly re-establishing offensive zone pressure and a shot from the point by Teuvo Teravainen being re-directed in from by Nino Niederreiter to give the Canes all the offense they would require.
Playoff Nino. After finally getting his stick back from Nelson, Niederreiter deflects home his first of the postseason, and just like that the Hurricanes are up 2-1 in the third period in New York. pic.twitter.com/ravHmHTBAq— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 28, 2019
While the offense only managed 18 shots on net, the important thing was that as the Isles allowed them to stay in the game by not converting chances, the Canes slowly but surely built a game that was substantial. They carried the play for significant portions of the second and third period. Instead of trying to get outside of what has made them successful in the past few games in an attempt to create more offensive chances, the Canes doubled down on their lunch pail approach and were rewarded for their efforts.
The Bad - The injuries continue to mount
While there is no reason not to be ecstatic about bringing a 2-0 series lead home in what should feature nothing but close games for the entire series, the Canes nevertheless continue to deal with significant adversity on the injury front. The latest casualties were Petr Mrazek, who had been sterling in net for the Canes all postseason, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Saku Maenalanen.
Mrazek appeared to aggravate his right leg at some point during the second period as he attempted to push across the crease to make a save on a developing two-on-one for the Isles. A minute or so later, during a stoppage in play, he notified the bench and skated off to the room in frustration, leaving the net to Curtis McElhinney. (More on him in a moment.) At the end of the game, there was no news from Rod Brind’Amour about the length that Mrazek would be sidelined, but it would seem unlikely that he would play as the series returns to Raleigh.
The loss of van Riemsdyk was likely felt most during Sunday’s action.
The hit absorbed from Cal Clutterbuck was on the first shift of the game, and resulted in the Canes operating with just five defensemen for the entirety of Game 2. The Canes managed, as the average time on ice for the five Carolina blueliners in Game 2 was just over 23 minutes. Brind’Amour indicated that TVR would likely be sidelined for a significant length of time, meaning that Haydn Fleury is likely to draw back into the lineup for the first time since Game 3 against Washington.
The other loss for the Canes was unsung grinder Saku Maenalanen. He exited in the third period with a hand injury. It is said that the injury will require surgery, but Maenalanen is only expected to miss 10-14 days. While Maenalanen has just one assist in seven playoff games, his contributions physically, as well as providing stable play on the third or fourth lines, certainly cannot be overlooked. The Canes will have to hope that they have some returning forwards in Jordan Martinook and/or Andrei Svechnikov to fill the void.
The Great - Mac Attack
For the Hurricanes players, coaches, and fans, what Curtis McElhinney did on Sunday afternoon in relief of Petr Mrazek was not surprising. The 35-year-old veteran was acquired just one day before the season commenced, but since day one, he has been an integral part of the success of this team that very likely would not have qualified for the playoffs without his stellar work in 33 games this season. With 22 days since his last action on the season’s final day in Philadelphia, McElhinney picked up exactly where he left off as he stopped all 17 shots he faced, with help from his good friends Justin Williams and Mr. Crossbar on a few occasions.
Justin Williams lets the ref know it didn’t go in. lol. pic.twitter.com/yQ24f608KS— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 28, 2019
McElhinney arrived in the game, just his third postseason appearance in his 11-year NHL career, with the same aggressiveness and confidence that Mrazek has exhibited throughout the playoffs. His challenge on a Mathew Barzal chance from point blank range showed that rust would not be a factor for McElhinney, and his efforts in the mad scramble to close Game 2 will leave the Canes with the sense that they are in good hands in net, despite losing Mrazek.
While the loss of depth is certainly a concern (Alex Nedeljkovic will almost certainly be recalled from Charlotte), the Canes will not enter Game 3 expecting there to be a drop in play from their goalie. That is an undervalued asset that most teams do not have the luxury of having. With that confidence, the Canes skaters do not have to adjust their game to “protect” a vulnerable netminder. Time will tell of McElhinney can sustain the excellent work in net for Carolina, but if his pop quiz on Sunday is any indication, the Canes should feel good as the long test of the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues.
Moral of the Story
The bottom line is, the Hurricanes did everything you would want and more in New York. Up 2-0 in the series, Carolina has a chance to return home and end the series with a pair of quality efforts. Low-scoring, tight-checking battles are the name of the game in this series, so no one expects the Canes to return home and just blow the Isles out of the water. They will have to remain committed to the grinding game they have built in the first two contests, and prepare for what will surely be a desperate Islanders team on Wednesday night.