The New York Islanders did the sweeping in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by disposing of the Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games. They then found themselves on the other end of the broom by bowing out in four against the Carolina Hurricanes. This makes them just the fourth team in league history to sweep and then be swept in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Islanders’ big guns simply fell silent as they were outscored 13-5 in the series and were ousted by scores of 1-0, 2-1, 5-2 and 5-2 despite having home ice advantage. The Hurricanes are now 5-0 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh in the current postseason and played game four against the Islanders in front of a franchise record 19,495 fans.
It was the first four-game sweep for the Hurricanes franchise and the Islanders became the first team since the 1992/93 Buffalo Sabres to sweep the first series and be swept in the next. Carolina did manage to oust the Quebec Nordiques in three straight games in a best-of-five series in 1985/86 when the franchise was the Hartford Whalers.
The Islanders were the best defensive team in the league this season after being the worst the year before. However, they didn’t have the firepower to win high-scoring games and were seemingly in trouble if they weren’t able to score at least three times themselves. They went 38-2-2 during the regular season when scoring at least three goals, but failed to reach that magical mark even once in the series against Carolina.
Game four of the series saw the Hurricanes start the third period with a lead for the first time in this year’s postseason, but on the flip side of the coin the Islanders had never scored a goal in the third period during the series until the fourth and final game.
Robin Lehner, who shared the William Jennings Trophy this season with teammate Thomas Greiss for allowing the fewest goals against, was pulled at 3:17 of the second period in the deciding game after falling behind 3-1. Some fans are now questioning head coach Barry Trotz’s decision to start Lehner in all of the Islanders’ eight playoff games since he was used to platooning with Greiss during the regular season.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 4, 2019
Lehner played in 46 contests in 2018/19 while Greiss saw action in 43 outings. In addition, Lehner has now failed to beat Carolina in eight career starts while Greiss beat them three times this season. During the playoffs though, Lehner played 449 minutes while Greiss tended the crease for only 36 minutes.
The Hurricanes also used a platoon system during the season with Petr Mrazek playing 40 games and Curtis McElhinney getting into 33. Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour appeared to have given the ball to Mrazek to run with in the playoffs but he was injured in game two against the Islanders and McElhinney had to fill in.
In doing so, the 35-year-old set a new NHL record for becoming the oldest netminder to make his first playoff start when he was given the nod in game three. He started the game 37 days older than Penguins’ Les Binkley who set the previous mark in 1969/70.
McElhinney finished the series 3-0 with a 1.56 goals-against average and a 94.7 save percentage. The Hurricanes will now get a bit of a rest waiting out the winner of the Boston Bruins vs Columbus Blue Jackets series and Brind’Amour will have the option of going with either of his goalies in the next series knowing they’re both in top form.
The Hurricanes may not make the playoffs that often as this is their first appearance in a decade. They make the most of it when they do show up to the dance though since this is the fourth straight time they’ve reached the conference finals when playing in the postseason. They also achieved the feat in 2001/02, 2005/06 and 2008/09 and of course won the Stanley Cup in 2005/06. They’re also the hottest team in this year’s postseason right now with six consecutive victories since falling behind 3-2 in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals.
The Hurricanes were happy to see rookie Andrei Svechnikov return to the lineup in the final game against the Islanders as he’d been sidelined since early in the Washington series with a concussion. He made the big mistake of agreeing to fight fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin and paid the price for it. Svechnikov marked his return with a goal and will definitely add some depth in the Eastern Conference Final.
🛎🛎🛎 AND THE WINNER BY KNOCKOUT: Alex Ovechkin! pic.twitter.com/hDQHXNJ67q
— Unfinished Business (@FinishTheBiz) April 16, 2019
Thirty-seven-year-old forward and team captain Justin Williams is also in fine form with three goals and six points in the playoffs and notched his 100th career postseason point in 151 games during game four against New York. Fellow veteran Jordan Staal has four goals and nine points this year as does Sebastian Aho and rookie Warren Foegele has been a surprise with five goals and nine points. Foegele is currently deadlocked with Erik Cole for the most playoff points by a Hurricanes’ rookie.
But the defense and goaltending also need to be given credit for the win over the Islanders as they allowed just five goals against and only two of them coming at even strength. That, in a nutshell, was why the Islanders were swept for just the second time in franchise history.
Jordan Eberle failed to score against Carolina after notching a goal in each game against Pittsburgh in the first round. He still finished as the Islanders’ leading playoff scorer though with four goals and five assists. Anders Lee and Valtteri Filppula struggled however as they combined for a lone goal in eight outings each.
The Hurricanes could still do with some improvement if they hope to reach the Stanley Cup final as they have gone just one for 24 with the man advantage since game three with Washington. They could also do themselves a favor by shoring up their penalty killing, but appear to be ready for the next test by playing some very effective 5 on 5 hockey.