Next man up.
That’s been the motto for this seasons’ Carolina Hurricanes who have continued to truck along in the face of injury after injury to their forward corp, and it was in full effect once again as they saw yet another teammate go down with injury.
After losing Jack Drury to an upper-body injury — courtesy of a Ryan Pulock board — just 3:30 into the game, the Hurricanes needed another body on the top line.
Say hello to Mackenzie MacEachern, a 29-year old callup for spent the entire season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, and was dressing for his first game in a Hurricanes sweater.
“I kind of had an idea I was gonna Black Ace or practice with the team after our season ended Sunday in Chicago,” MacEachern said. “And then our plan was for me to come here Thursday and then it was kind of a stressful day. I was supposed to just fly to Carolina and kind of get settled but I got a call after Turbo went down that I was gonna fly from Chicago to Carolina and then hop on a plane from Carolina to New York. It was a pretty stressful day, but once I got here it was pretty good. I was told yesterday to come ready to play and when I got to the rink at 11am today, I saw my name on the sheet. That was kind of when it hit home that I was playing.”
MacEachern played 4:07 at even strength alongside Seth Jarvis and Sebastian Aho and tallied a goal and an assist — his first two NHL playoff points — in that time.
“Obviously we’re shorthanded like you wouldn’t believe, but we just keep finding ways,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “It’s impressive. [MacEachern] hasn’t played a game for us all year, comes up and impacts the game. Just really good on him. I’m happy for him. He deserved it. He played well in the minors and was hurt for a big portion of the year. You like to see when guys earn their way to the league and have a nice game.
“I watched the last few games of their season, because you just never know and we were shorthanded so I’m like, ‘What if we need a guy,’ and he just jumped off the page. So that’s why I say he earned the callup number one, but then you talk to the coach down there too. I talked to Brock [Sheahan] this morning and he’s like, ‘It’s a no brainer. This guy will help you.’ So it’s nice when the guys who knows him the best, and I know he’s going to endorse his player, but he also knows we need help. It was an easy decision.”
The line combined for three goals and just feasted on the Islanders. Could we be seeing the emergence of a new top line?
If so, it’s just what the Hurricanes have needed.
Through four games, the Canes’ top six had been lacking. They had just two even strength points between the six of them, both assists, and they had been getting caved in defensively.
So a little change to the lineups were made and all of a sudden, the Hurricanes top guys were carrying the team.
The top line each registered an even strength goal and the second line, which had seen Jordan Martinook bumped up with Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi was all of a sudden able to hold its own.
Slight adjustments, but tremendous payoffs.
“It’s a pretty easy group to step into,” MacEachern said. “I got to get to know a handful of them during training camp, but it’s an unbelievable group and a bunch of nice guys. They made me feel pretty welcome right away and it was just an unbelievable experience. Just trying to take it all in and go shift by shift.”
There wasn’t a single aspect of the game in which the Hurricanes were lacking in. They dominated the special teams battle and once again won the goaltending battle, perhaps the two most important factors.
Carolina even outplayed New York in their bread and butter — physicality — as they outhit the Islanders 42-32.
It was also yet another big game for Antti Raanta. The Finnish netminder has been dynamite for Carolina this postseason and once again outplayed his opposite end rival, Ilya Sorokin.
There were plenty of worries about how he would handle this series, and so far, he’s been the difference maker.
“He’s been a steady consistent,” Jarvis said on his netminder. “Just the way he’s looked calm. Not moving too much and overreacting to pucks and just knowing that he’s back there playing his A-game, it really helps everyone in front of him have a lot of confidence.”
Each of the wins in this series have come when the Carolina Hurricanes strike early.
In Game 1, it was Sebastian Aho’s power play goal 3:47 into the game. In Game 2, it was Paul Stastny’s tally 5:49 in and for Game 4, it was Seth Jarvis 4:05 in on the power play.
Playing with the lead is one of the biggest advantages you can have, especially when playing against a defensively grindy team like the New York Islanders are.
So when you can open them up early, usually good things follow, and that’s exactly what happened for Carolina in their 5-2 win.
The Hurricanes have also scored the first two goals in three of the four games played in this series, a testament to their ability to keep applying offensive pressure.
The team that has gotten the edge on special teams has won each game this series. Today, it was Carolina’s special teams that once again were the difference makers.
On their first 5-on-3 power play this postseason, Jarvis put the Canes on the board and Necas doubled that lead with another man advantage score.
“The power play was huge,” Jarvis said. “Jack took a heavy hit there and got hurt and you never want to see that happen, but to be able to capitalize on that was huge for us. On a 5-on-3, you have to score. You don’t get many of those, so you have to take advantage of them. Theoretically the same play on the second one, backdoor for Necas. We’re finding ways and it’s nice to get rewarded.”
Both plays were predicated by outstanding plays by Stefan Noesen in tight with the primary passes to both Jarvis and Necas.
He’s been the Hurricanes’ offensive MVP this series being the primary driver of power play success.
The penalty kill was also a stalwart wall, turning aside all three of the Islanders’ man advantage opportunities.
The Hurricanes will return home for Game 5 as they look to be the first team to advance to the second round of the Stanly Cup Playoffs Tuesday night.