Tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes have an opportunity to do something that they’ve never done - sweep a playoff series.
Thanks to a pair of road wins and a dominant third period in game three at PNC Arena, the Canes are up 3-0 on the New York Islanders, and a win tonight will send the Isles back to New York for the summer.
Carolina is well aware of how difficult it will be to close out the series. There needs to be desperation in their game from the start, and they have to make sure that they don’t give New York even a glimpse of hope that they can overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Here are your keys for the Hurricanes in game four.
Prepare for Initial Push
For the first time all postseason, the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t the team whose back is against the wall. That distinction belongs to the New York Islanders tonight.
If we know one thing about Barry Trotz-coached teams, it’s that they won’t go down easy. The first period tonight will be physical and intense, and it will be Carolina’s job to neutralize it on their home ice.
That’s where having Curtis McElhinney in net could be a big advantage. His poise has been oft-talked-about this season, and it will be needed tonight. That means controlling rebounds, bailing his teammates out, and stopping play when the Canes need it.
Like every game, the first period will be important, but it should be magnified tonight. If Carolina can match the intensity that New York brings, they put themselves in a situation where they can start to discourage their opponent from the start, and that would go a long way.
Work Svech Back in
Rod Brind’Amour spoke highly of his 19-year-old rookie after game three on Wednesday.
“He was awesome,” Brind’Amour said. “I wanted to play him more, but I couldn’t because he was a little gassed. You could see his game-shape wasn’t really there. He looked like a force out, and it was a huge impact for us to be able to put him in the lineup.”
Svechnikov ended up with 12:13 of ice time in his first game back from concussion protocol, and Brind’Amour wasn’t lying when he said Svech was awesome. On his first shift, he broke up a transition play from the Islanders and went onto make a handful of impressive back-checking plays throughout the game. He also ripped a shot right off the short-side post after a drop-pass from Jordan Staal in the first period.
If his conditioning can improve from game three, it would be a big boost for the Canes to see his role expanded, both at even-strength and on the man advantage. He didn’t look like he missed a beat in his first game back, and we saw in the opening games of the first round that he is more than capable of making a big impact on the game. PNC Arena will burst into flames if Svechnikov finds a way to dent the scoreboard tonight.
Play Your Best Hockey
It’s been said a thousand times over the last day and a half that the final game is the hardest one to win, and while it’s cliche, it’s very true.
It took Carolina 30+ overtime minutes of their best hockey in game seven against Washington to escape with a series win, and it’ll take a similar effort to get rid of New York.
Truth be told, games one and two were controlled (to varying degrees) by the Islanders, and they likely would’ve won both games had it not been for stellar goaltending and a 48-second outburst in the third period of game two. Game three, however, was a much better showing of what this Hurricanes team can be.
After Justin Williams’ eventual game-winning goal, the Canes absolutely dominated the rest of the game. They rode the wave of momentum and an eardrum-bursting crowd to eight or so minutes of pure decimation of the visiting Islanders before topping it off with a pair of empty-net goal from the Finns.
We’ve seen time and time again in this postseason that home ice advantage is real, especially when the Hurricanes are playing good hockey in front of the loudest fans in hockey at PNC Arena.
It’ll be important that the Hurricanes wear down the Islanders throughout the game and then use that home ice advantage down the stretch to slam the door and complete the sweep.