Rested Islanders ready to go against Hurricanes in 2nd round of Stanley Cup
NEW YORK — The New York Islanders are rested and ready to go. The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t had a chance to relax after outlasting the defending champions in a marathon seven-game series.
More than a week after finishing off a sweep in the first round, Mathew Barzal and the defense-first Islanders get set to open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against the upstart Hurricanes.
New York has not played since dispatching the Penguins on April 16. The Hurricanes took the Washington Capitals to the limit with the deciding game lasting into a second overtime Wednesday night, a 4-3 Carolina victory. Now, less than 48 hours later, the teams will meet in the postseason for the first time.
“The biggest challenge is going to be switching gears,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We’ve been going real hard here for a couple weeks. Obviously all that emotion. To throw that away and focus on a whole new opponent, different style, that’ll be the biggest challenge.”
New York held off the Penguins down the stretch to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and then quickly disposed of the Penguins.
“It was a long wait,” Barzal said. “We’ve been practicing hard, practicing some scrimmage stuff. … We’re just anxious to get it going again.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz didn’t mind the layoff because it allowed some banged-up players like Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield a chance to heal. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, however, remains sidelined for several weeks.
“We just want to play,” Trotz said. “There might be some rust and you can’t duplicate some stuff (in practice), but I know we’re toeing to get stronger and stronger and stronger.”
Both teans are here after surprising seasons and stunning victories in the opening round. In the first year under Trotz, the Islanders used a strong defensive system, timely scoring and some stellar goaltending to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence and following the departure of former captain John Tavares in free agency last summer. Carolina, which missed the playoffs for nine straight years, was 15-17-5 on Dec. 30 and one point out of last place in the East before going 31-12-2 the rest of the way. The Hurricanes then won a grueling series against the Capitals, marking the first time in NHL history all four division winners were eliminated in the first round.
The teams both use a tenacious defense to try to smother opponents’ chances and generate scoring opportunities for themselves. The Islanders allowed a league-low 2.33 goals per game during the season, and the Hurricanes were tied for seventh at 2.70.
Jordan Eberle led the Islanders in the first round with four goals and two assists, giving him nine goals and three assists in his last 11 games dating to the regular season. Brock Nelson, who had 25 goals and 28 assists during the season, scored three against the Penguins. Anders Lee (28 goals, 23 assists), Josh Bailey (16 goals, 40 assists) and Barzal (18 goals, 44 assists) also had 50-point seasons.
“They’re patient,” Brind’Amour said. “(They) play that defensive game and when you crack is when they go.”
Warren Foegele had a team-high four goals in the first round for the Hurricanes and was tied with Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Staal, who each had three goals and three assists. Teuvo Terraivanen also scored three goals, and Jaccob Flavin had nine assists to lead the team in points.