RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes set out to do something they’ve never done before on Friday night at PNC Arena - sweep a best of seven playoff series.
In front of a franchise-record crowd of 19,495, the Hurricanes ended the New York Islanders’ season with a convincing 5-2 win. The Canes are now winners of six consecutive hockey games and are set to play the survivor of the Columbus Blue Jackets/Boston Bruins series in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Canes needed to come out of the box amped on Friday - Andrei Svechnikov was maybe a little too amped. His high-sticking penalty all of 1:13 into the game instantly put the Canes behind the 8-ball, and they got punished for it.
After almost 1:30 of continuous pressure from New York’s power play, they finally broke through when Matt Barzal snuck through the slot behind Jaccob Slavin and deposited a rebound before Justin Faulk could muscle him away. Just like that, Carolina’s early penalty put them behind 1-0.
Just about two minutes later, though, Leo Komarov took a rather pointless penalty as he cross-checked Justin Williams up high and got assessed two minutes in the penalty box for it. Luckily for the Canes, though, he didn’t have to stay in there for the full 120 seconds.
A long cycling sequence in the Canes zone eventually resulted in their first power play goal since game three of the first round. Sebastian Aho took the puck to the net, and a collapsing Islanders d-man inadvertently shoved the puck by Robin Lehner, thus tying the hockey game at one.
There wasn’t much offense from there in the first period, except for a big push from the Jordan Staal late in the frame that included a Nino Niederreiter backhander deflecting off the cross-bar, but there was plenty of physicality.
Jordan Martinook took a clean run at Scott Mayfield behind the Islanders goal, to which Mayfield was mighty upset. He chased down Martinook, tried to get him to fight, and then he hooked his skate out from under him. Both players got minor penalties for the little fracas.
Greg McKegg laid a hit so hard that Michael Dal Colle’s helmet flipped around entirely, and then Brock McGinn did a number on Nick Leddy. Those two hits ignited the crowd down the stretch and it felt like the Canes were gaining some momentum as the opening frame ended at a 1-1 tie score.
Boy, let me tell you, that momentum carried over. The Canes were buzzing from the jump in the second period, scoring twice in the first 3:17. The first tally came from Teuvo Teravainen on the tail end of a gorgeous passing play started by Sebastian Aho behind Lehner and completed by Warren Foegele, who came on the ice flying from the bench on a line change and fed Teravainen for the tap-in to make it 2-1.
Just 1:06 later, the fourth line made it 3-1. Patrick Brown charged into the Islanders zone as New York made a line change, and he dropped the puck back to Jordan Martinook who managed to set up a charging Brett Pesce, whose cannon got stopped by Lehner and cleaned up by Greg McKegg for the journeyman’s first career NHL postseason goal.
The Islanders then burned their timeout and brought in Canes killer Thomas Greiss in hopes to provide a spark.
Instead, he surrendered another quick goal against.
Jordan Staal centered the puck in front to Justin Williams on a grinding offensive zone shift, and the captain chipped the centering pass through the legs of Greiss to make it 4-1.
New York got some favorable officiating through the rest of the second period, but Carolina kept them at bay and off of the scoreboard before eventually failing to score on a power play of their own in the final minutes of the period. Through 40 minutes, it was a 4-1 hockey game in favor of the team that had a 3-0 series lead.
The third period saw a lot of chances for the Islanders, who continued to fight for their playoff lives, but a combination of good defense and (mostly) excellent goaltending from Curtis McElhinney kept the Isles off the board. The veteran was nothing short of marvelous.
Just for kicks, Andrei Svechnikov buried a feed from Justin Faulk (whose phenomenal effort to take the puck from a defensive-zone face off win and carry it all the way up ice made the goal happen) to make it 5-1 with just a few minutes to go. Brock Nelson found twine in garbage time off of a bad bounce, but 5-2 was as close as the Isles got.
A loud, fun-having crowd at PNC Arena chanted “sweep” down the stretch, and they got what they wanted.
The Hurricanes swept their way to the Eastern Conference Final. The Islanders were rewarded with some handshakes for their trouble.
Oh, and Nelson got a pat on the head. Dougie Hamilton didn’t forget about game three...
We need a break, our group. I’m just so proud of these guys, I can’t even tell you. They just grinded. It wasn’t pretty, but I think a break is what they need, more almost mentally. They need a little rest. Will it affect us in our first game? We’re going to hear about that. Maybe. There might be a little rust there, but I think we need it.
I didn’t like our first period. We knew they were going to come, and they did. The turning point for me was that we actually responded right away after giving up the first one. We’re thinking “OK, settle down.” When we changed things around a little bit, I felt like we had a good push, and that was enough. All the games this series...we never felt like we could get to our game for any length of time, but there were segments. That’s what we needed to do, that’s how we play, and we were able to capitalize on those time frames. Again, just really proud of this group.
I think that the guys wanted it, really bad. They know they’re not playing their best, and they just keep digging in. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s certainly nothing different that we’re doing, or trying to do, it’s just like “let’s go.” Each guy, to a man, at least in my opinion, just figure out a way. Again, it wasn’t pretty, but I can’t give these guys enough credit for coming to play every night.
To sit here and say I expected to be here...our goal wasn’t to be one of the four teams remaining. Our goal was to keep playing and to be the best team. That’s our goal. Obviously I don’t think too many people expected us to be here, but we did. I know it isn’t the easiest thing to hear, but that’s the truth. I think for every one of those guys, you ask them the same thing, this is great and we’re super excited, but there’s more. We have to do more. That’s a question for probably a month from now.
Generally you it the lines together that you think will work, and you don’t want to fray from that right away. All year it has worked, in my opinion. Coming into this series I wasn’t super exited about some of the matchups. When we got to it the other night I thought we had good line combinations, the matchups were good, and right away I could tell in the first this was not going to work. We had our plan B ready to go and we went with it, and it worked out for that period. We got a little push it’s those guys. Andrei hadn’t played much, because of penalties and everything going on. I knew he was fresh and needed to get him up there more, so it was an easy switch.
[The defense has] been our strength. We knew coming in that we had a very good D group, we made it better in the offseason, and I felt like - and I still do - that’s definitely the strength of our group. When they’re on, regardless of how we’re playing up front, I feel like we have a chance every night. Obviously the goaltending is part of that defensive group, and when that’s on and our D are playing solid, we have a chance every night. That’s pretty much how the year has gone.
[On the goal being more than just making the playoffs:] That was the mindset coming into day one of training camp. That was the first thing we talked about. We’re trying to raise the bar around here. All the changes we made, and there were a bunch, it took a lot of courage to do the things we did. You have to give the people credit that made those changes. There were a lot of people who doubted what we were doing. Part of that change, in my opinion, was changing the way we looked at ourselves and where we wanted to be. Part of it was, we had to raise the bar. It’s not good enough to make the playoffs. That’s not the goal. This is awesome, and we’re happy to be where we are, but that’s not the finish line. We still have that in mind.
The first game of the season, we played the Islanders in here, and we lost in overtime, and we had 40-some shots. I came in here, first press conference, everyone was like “same old team.” You’re not watching the game. We are way different. You can see the way we play. We went 20-some odd games, and it didn’t work, the record wasn’t there but the guys believed that the style of play we were trying to establish was working, and it would work. To me, that was the turning point. The guys believed in what we were trying to accomplish, and we’re still here.
You need to have a lot of things go your way. I’ve been in the playoffs before, I know how it works, and we have. But we’ve also had a lot of things not go our way, and that to me is where we establish some sort of traction. It doesn’t matter what seems to gets thrown at us. Injuries, all the things that could of derailed us, nobody even blinked an eye. That goes to say a lot about what we have going.
[On matching the Islanders’ fourth line:] It was really important coming back here. Game 3 we put that line together, they went toe to toe with those guys and actually played really well. You needed everyone to contribute. They have their team, we know how good they were, and everybody contributing. Their model is very similar, I think, to what we were trying to do. I think we were able to capitalize a little more, but we had everybody contributing, and we needed everyone.
[What makes you most proud?] It’s every day, their approach to what they do. It’s taking pride in how they do things and who they’re doing it with. They just come to work. They earn everything that they’re getting right now. That’s what’s probably made me the most proud. I know what we’re going to get. It’s not always going to be pretty, but ti’s not from a lack of commitment or digging in.
Imposing your will on a team and giving them doubt is the key to winning a series, whenever that may be. We pushed, and we pushed, and we pushed, we got a couple goals and a good lead. That’s how you win a series, you tell the team it’s too hard for them. And it was.
We smelled blood, absolutely, but the fans smelled it more than we did - it was raucous. I don’t know if I can compare it to the Stanley Cup Final, but it’s darned near close. Home ice advantage has been obviously key for us, and something that hopefully will continue to go.
Everything is new. Every series is new. Would I have believed you if you had said we would have swept them? Obviously not, but I’d believe you if you said we would beat them. That’s the main goal, whether it takes four games or seven. Coming out on top was the most important. We did it in four, so now we get a week of rest.
It’s huge. It’s what you need on the power play. We’ve obviously dissected and put a lot of onus on ourselves to compete and produce on it, quite frankly. It was a big goal for us.
I don’t think I have to say anything [about McElhinney]. It’s quite obvious, the caliber of goalie he is, the talent he is, the mind he has, he’s just solid every way you look at it.
It’s important to get your rest. It’s a weapon at this time of year. We didn’t want to go back to New York, that’s for sure. I don’t think [it’s a bad thing]. I could certainly use a few days, and I know a lot of guys in this room could as well. We’ve been going hard since day one. These last three weeks haven’t been anything for us.
Like I said at the start of the season, we’re not making a ceiling for ourselves. We’re not tapping out at making the playoffs, or winning a round, or winning two rounds. We’re going to see how good we can be. I said that at the start of the year. I don’t know how good we can be. But we’re working ourselves into the conversation here, and we’ll see what’s happening.
[On how the sweep feels] Feels pretty good. I think it’ll take a little bit to set in. It’s a different than winning in double OT, but it feels just as good. Everybody’s tired. We laid it all out there, but once we give it a minute to settle in... whenever you win a series, it’s unbelievable, especially for us to dig in and get it done in four. Hopefully, we can get some rest here. You just can’t say enough about our team. It’s just crazy.
[On today being the one-year anniversary of the day he was traded to Carolina] It’s pretty cool. To put this year into perspective... To think a year ago today, I got traded here with not a clue in the world what I was coming into or what this could be and to see where we are... I’m just speechless.
[On what this team has done to get here] You look down the line and you see how much everyone cares for each other, they give everything they got each game and you add the skill and work ethic - that’s just a good formula. We just gotta keep going.
[On the crowd] Once that crowd gets going, I don’t know if you can feed on it or what, but it just gives you a little extra “oomf” and it was really going there in the second period, and at the end when they’re singing, it’s pretty fun.
[On when he knew this team was special] About a month into the season when everybody started to get to know each other. Obviously there were a lot of new guys and new faces and it take a little bit for everybody to get to know each other and get that camaraderie. It’s just, I’ve said it before, everybody cares so much for each other and you can’t put a price on that. It’s big.
[On what Brind’Amour said before the game] He gets us in the mindset. He comes in and he basically said ‘if you don’t think think that this is gonna be a hard game then don’t even go out and play.’ That guy, I think he can motivate a pack of mice. He’s incredible. Everybody just knows what it takes to win and how important it is to not take a shift off and I think that’s kind of been our motto all year.
[On what changed between the first and second period] I think we just regrouped between the first and the second. We knew it wasn’t our best period, and we weathered their storm a little bit and got on our horse and scored two quick ones.
[On how nice it felt to score the goal to make it 3-1] Yeah, it was a little while since I’ve been on the scoresheet so it was nice to pop one in. We’ve had a few chances throughout the series so it was nice to see it go in.
[On Brind’Amour’s ability to get the team ready to play] He’s done a great job of that all year. He just gets us really fired up for the game. He said we had to go and take it, they weren’t gonna give it to us. We were excited and ready to go and the crowd was rocking.
[On what changed between the first and second period] They were really good in the first period, I felt like. They pushed really hard and got the 1-0 goal and had a couple of good looks there, but we fought through it. In the second period, I don’t think we changed really, we just pushed back and kept the momentum.
[On what making the ECF means] It’s awesome for this fanbase. They’ve been waiting ten years. Now, I feel like they enjoy it even more, and so do we, but we’re not done here yet. We’re just trying to take it a day at a time.
Our power play had struggled pretty much all playoffs, and definitely in this series. To get one right back stole the momentum, and to get ourselves evened up before the end of the first was huge.
We’re playing well, but we definitely think there’s still better. I don’t think if you watched the game, you wouldn’t say we were perfect. There’s definitely mental errors and some mistakes that have been [made] but we’re all working to help each other out. One guy gets beat, there’s another there to help him and cover him a little bit. We’re playing well, but we still think there’s another level.
We got one [to start the second] and we were able to go from there. I don’t know if there was anything too special to it, we just knew we had to come in and keep working and go from there, take what’s given to us and that’s what happened, we’re able to keep going. It’s time to enjoy it a little bit here for a day or two before we get back to work, but we need to turn our focus to whoever’s going to be coming up next and get ready to go for another grind.
Some guys will probably take a day or two away, benefit from that. We went right from round 1 to round 2, no rest in between. We had the two days between games 2 and 3 here, that helped a lot too. Hopefully guys can get healthy and get everybody back in the lineup.
We’ve fed off [the crowd] all playoffs. It’s not anything new for us. So far throughout they’ve been loud, they’ve been great, and every night they give us a little more energy.
We’re going to take what they gave us. It’s the playoffs, everything’s going to be a little bit different. We knew they were going to come, they weren’t going to sit back and make it easy on us. We were expecting that all series, not just today because their backs were against the wall. They’ve been grinding, they’ve been playing hard all series, and we were ready for it. Guys are just going with whatever we have to do out there to win and not try to do too much.
[On his first NHL playoff experience] It’s been fun for me, and we’re looking forward to the next series. It’s going to be hard, we know that.