Coming into the contest, there were two teams in similar but vastly different positions.
Both teams were coming in on the second half of a back-to-back, but with very different results in those first games.
And in terms of desperation, the Isles badly needed a win. Coming into the game, they sat in the first wild card spot, but just three points separated them from there and a second straight year missing the postseason and with just five games remaining.
But the Hurricanes also needed a win, because as they gun to win a third straight division title, the New Jersey Devils refuse to go away, sitting just a single point behind them heading into tonight’s slate of games.
But despite the differing levels of desperation, it was the Canes who seemed the most wanting of the win.
“We have a job to do,” said coach Rod Brind’Amour. “We still want to finish as high as we can, but that team is playing for their lives. And yet, I thought we looked like the team that was maybe a little more desperate. I think that says a lot about the group.”
The Hurricanes rallied from an early 1-0 deficit, squeaking out a 2-1 victory thanks to timely goals and stingy possession, as they outshot the Isles 35-22 and outchanced them 58-38 at even strength.
“You’re always trying to limit the other team’s opportunities,” Brind’Amour said. “I think we’ve done a great job of that all year in general and even in this last stretch. We’ve been really solid with it and obviously it’s led to these last couple of wins that’s for sure.”
Despite the Hurricanes carrying play early, it was the Islanders who struck first as Pierre Engvall set up JG Pageau for a top-corner snipe in transition.
However, the Canes found the equalizer midway through the second period in surprising fashion.
New York netminder, Ilya Sorokin, had been stopping every chance the Hurricanes had materialized, but it was a soft one that he ended up conceding.
In transition, Jesse Puljujarvi passed it out to Jesperi Kotkaniemi trailing in the circle and the Finnish center simply put it on net, where it squeezed through Sorokin’s arm and trickled over the goal line.
“That’s been our thing for a while now,” Kotkaniemi said. “We had a lot of shots, but the puck just wasn’t bouncing in. Our line, we finally got one. It was great to see [Puljujarvi] get his first point. I feel like he’s been playing really good lately and creating a lot, but like the whole team, the pucks just weren’t bouncing right.”
The goal also marked Puljujarvi’s first point as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Puljujarvi had been playing well as of late, but had been so absolutely snakebitten.
“He’s played really well, just hasn’t been rewarded,” Brind’Amour said on the Finnish winger. “Even tonight, he had a couple of good opportunities and hit the post on one. He’s been around it and been making some good plays, so I think it’s just good for him. You do feel better when you contribute on the score sheet so I think you can see the weights lifted off his shoulders. Everyone judges you by your points. That’s not how we do it. He’s been real effective and that line tonight was perhaps our best line out on the ice and he was a big part of it.”
And as a continuation on the theme of the game not being what Sorokin stopped, but what he let in, Jordan Martinook gave the Canes a lead early in the third period.
As unlikely a hero as the Canes potentially have, Martinook called his own shot on a 2-on-1 with Sebastian Aho and beat Sorokin cleanly for his first goal since February 1, ending a 24-game goal drought.
“Holy smokes,” Martinook said on the goal drought. “It’s not for lack of effort. I feel like I’ve been getting the chances, they just haven’t been going in. Feels good to get one that’s for sure.
“I thought [Aho] was coming around the other side, but then I picked my head up and saw that he was driving on the other side and both guys kind of went with him and I wasn’t going to try to feather one in when he was getting kind of hauled down there. I went there earlier in the game and he got me, so I just tried to go quick and it went in. Been a while.”
And from there, the Canes shut it down and skated to victory, backstopped by Frederik Andersen’s 20-save performance.
“It was a really good weekend for the team with the way we played,” Andersen said. “We played a little more to our identity and it showed how we have to play.”
The Hurricanes will be back in action on Tuesday as the host the Ottawa Senators.