We’re in baby! After a stressful week for the fanbase, the New York Islanders have clinched the first wildcard spot in the east to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will take on the leaders of the Metro, the Carolina Hurricanes, who confirmed a date with them after beating the Panthers 6-4 on Thursday night.
There are no easy matchups, especially for a team like the Islanders, but snagging that first wildcard spot helps us avoid these historic Boston Bruins. Instead of defending the Bruins’ revenge against us for the 2021 series win over them, we will seek revenge, ourselves, against the team that swept us in the 2019 second round. Brock better keep his hands off the goalie’s head this time! This is only the second time these two teams will have met in a playoff series, and the first time UBS Arena will host post-season hockey.
Now, no one truly expects us to win a series after barely qualifying for the post-season, but as we know, anything can happen. Several fanbases have expressed concern over matching up with the Isles due to their play-off style of hockey and the freak-of-nature that is Ilya Sorokin. The likely Vezina-candidate finished the ’22-23 season with a .924 SV% and 2.34 GAA in 62 GP. He also led the league in shutouts with 6 (not playing in front of the best team in history, mind you). Sorokin will likely be up for the save of the year again, as well. Give the man the Vezina.
Keys to the Series
What will it really take to beat a team like the Hurricanes? Coach Rod Brind’Amour has one of the most skilled and disciplined lineups in the league. The Canes won the season series, 3-1, over the Isles, taking the latter three after the Isles beat them 6-2 early in the year.
Luckily for the Isles, the Canes will be without star forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty. Even with the depth that Carolina has, missing these figures is vital for maintaining close games with them. The Isles will see the return of an eager and excited Mat Barzal in Game 1 after being out since mid-February. Alexander Romanov will, however, miss Game 1.
A major problem for the Islanders against a team like this is not being able to hold leads. They’ve proven they can complete comebacks in the second half of the season, but the concern remains the same. Carolina will be relentless in terms of their effort. They know they SHOULD win, and their hustle needs to satisfy Leonidas on the bench. Losing leads is a major issue for the Isles supplemented by lack of offensive talent. As recently as our final game against CAR, Pageau opened up the scoring in the first period, which would be the only goal they scored that game. The Canes easily finished the game with a 2-1 victory. Whatever Lambert needs to do to get these guys buzzin’, he must. There is no room for fuckery against the Carolina Hurricanes. They need to bring the physicality, win puck battles, and keep the Canes out of the D-zone zone as often as possible. Hopefully the trainers stock up on smelling salts before heading south.
Special teams will be a huge factor. In this year’s season series against the Canes, the Islanders are 0-8 on the Power Play, yet 10-10 on the Penalty Kill. Can the Isles unlock the PP? The Canes have the second best PK in the league at 84.4%, so it will take some major stepping up from the likes of Barzal, Horvat Nelson, Lee, and Dobson. They DID score on the final PP attempt of the season, so hopefully they can loosen up a bit and sling that biscuit around with the man-advantage when it matters most. The harder they skate, the more penalties they will draw. We need every chance possible. Let us not forget the chemistry between Barzy and Horvat before they sopped playing together.
On home ice, the Isles killed off 91/102 penalties (89.2% at home, NHL best). They have an 82% PK overall, which is pretty solid. Another positive to keep an eye on is the struggling PP of the Hurricanes, finishing at 20th league-wide with 19.8% success (Isles had 15.8%). Sauce a follow to @everydayisles on IG for these kinds of stats daily!
The Hurricanes did not end the regular season on the highest of notes, losing 10 of their last 19 games, and almost allowed a Florida comeback multiple times last night. Can the Isles ride the high of clinching into a competitive series against an incomplete Hurricanes roster?
At the end of the day, despite Carolina existing at a much higher level compared to the Islanders with high-end talent like Brent Burns and an even better Sebastian Aho, there is no reason to believe an Isles victory is impossible. Anyone who tells you so is just a salty cake-eater. That includes neurotic fans who didn’t want to support the team when we were in the thick of things…you know who you are. With a 7% chance of making playoffs in late January, and the bombardment of media criticism over their “boring” games, the Islanders certainly enter this series with a “Fuck You” attitude, as do the true fans. Let’s go, Islanders!