After playing nine games in 17 days, the two-day layoff between games two and three felt like several weeks, but the Carolina Hurricanes are back on the ice again tonight and they’ll be looking to take a commanding 3-0 series lead over the New York Islanders.
Games one and two brought great results for the Canes, but they can be better - they need to be better.
Here are some keys for the Canes as they make their return to PNC Arena tonight.
Return of the Mc
When Petr Mrazek left during the second period of game two with a lower-body injury, it looked like Carolina’s injury woes were about to finally catch up to them, but then we were all reminded that Curtis McElhinney is on this team.
More than three weeks removed from his last taste of game action, McElhinney entered the game, stopped all 17 shots he faced, and allowed the Hurricanes to storm back in the opening moments of the third period to steal a 2-1 win at Barclays Center and take a 2-0 series lead back to Raleigh.
Tonight, in game three, McElhinney will get the net with Mrazek still listed as day-to-day, and it’s a huge stage for the veteran goalie. He will become the oldest goalie in the history of the NHL to make his first playoff start. Despite that fact, there’s very little concern about him being the one in net.
This is what McElhinney has made a career out of doing - sitting for weeks at a time and getting forced into action right out of nowhere. Not many goalies can make a career out of doing that. It takes a unique mindset, and the 35-year-old has it.
Carolina needs more excellent work from their backstop tonight. The Islanders will be fighting for their playoff lives, and if games one and two were any indication, they’re assuredly going to get their fair share of high-danger scoring chances.
Obviously, Mrazek’s absence is significant for the Canes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Trevor van Riemsdyk, Saku Meanalanen, and Micheal Ferland (I think... no one really knows what’s going on with him) are all out of the lineup tonight. Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Martinook are game-time decisions, though there’s a real possibility that both will re-enter the lineup for game three.
The Hurricanes are getting to the point where they really can’t afford anymore injury hits. Patrick Brown and Clark Bishop have been serviceable on the fourth line, but the Canes have just about hit the limit of players they can call up from Charlotte without hindering their AHL playoff run.
Ignore the Results from Brooklyn
The Hurricanes left New York with a pair of wins, which was a hugely impressive feat, but it was also a hugely fortunate feat for a team that was not playing their best hockey and could have easily lost both of those games.
Fatigue plays a role in this, as do all of the injuries and the style of play that the Islanders have adopted from Barry Trotz, but the Hurricanes have no choice but to be better if they want to take a real stranglehold on this series. They have been suffocated in the neutral zone, neutralized in the offensive zone, and left chasing the puck in the defensive zone.
Getting a dynamic offensive player like Svechnikov back in the lineup would be huge, but it would ill-advised to expect greatness from him in his first game back after missing two weeks of action. The Canes need more from Sebastian Aho, who has been dealing with multiple injuries but has been invisible at times. The same goes for Justin Williams at the top of the lineup and Dougie Hamilton on the blue line.
Solving the longstanding power play issues would be an excellent start to trying to correct things. Hopefully, there were some important strides made in that area in practice yesterday, because 9.4% just isn’t going to cut it. That number is the lowest among all the teams remaining in this year’s postseason.