RALEIGH — As they say, no rest for the weary.
The Carolina Hurricanes, fresh off their double-overtime Game 7 win Wednesday in Washington, D.C., open their second-round series against the New York Islanders on Friday in Brooklyn.
The Islanders swept the Penguins in Round 1 and haven’t played since April 16 — the type of rest the Hurricanes would have loved to have after being battered in their series with the Capitals.
It’s a quick turnaround for Carolina, which has been battling injuries to several players. New York, meanwhile, will need to shake off the rust. The other team that had a first-round sweep, Columbus, lost Game 1 Thursday in Boston. The Bruins, like the Hurricanes, went seven games in their Round 1 series.
Much like how I previewed Carolina’s matchup with the Capitals — and predicted a seven-game loss — here’s a look how this Eastern Conference semifinal series stacks up.
The Islanders have skill (Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle) and size (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson), but this isn’t as daunting a group as the one Carolina faced in Round 1 against the defending champs.
The Islanders scored the fewest goals (228) of any Eastern Conference playoff team (only Dallas, with 210, scored less among postseason qualifiers) and finished with three 20-goal scorers: Lee (28), Nelson (25) and Casey Cizikas (20). New York had only eight players hit double digits in goals.
But Barzal is dangerous and one of the most exciting players in the NHL, and Lee is an elite power forward who can score with his shot or by eating up space in front. Eberle had a great first round against Pittsburgh, scoring four goals in four games and finishing with six points.
On the other side, Carolina might be on the upswing. Sebastian Aho had a big Game 7 in D.C. as did Teuvo Teravainen. Throw in that Jordan Staal was the Hurricanes’ best forward in Round 1 — both for his dominant defense and timely goals — and Justin Williams is as steady as they come, and Carolina seems to stack up well.
The question, of course, is the depth. Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Martinook and Micheal Ferland are all banged up. Getting the 19-year-old rookie back would provide a boost, as long as he plays the way he did down the stretch and in the first round before being knocked out in a fight by Alex Ovechkin.
The Islanders have one of the better bottom six forward groups in the league, so Carolina will again need contributions — and mistake-free play — from Warren Foegele, Brock McGinn and Greg McKegg to have a chance against the stingy Islanders.
If you squint your eyes, you’ll see that the Islanders defense is a lot like Carolina’s from the 2006 Stanley Cup run. There are no stars — Nick Leddy is their top guy — but they play well as a unit. Like Carolina, New York has a young defense, especially with 35-year-old Johnny Boychuk out with an injury. That means Thomas Hickey, who missed half of the season with concussion symptoms, will get into the lineup for coach Barry Trotz.
Hickey will likely play alongside Leddy, but is very different from the rugged and intimidating Boychuk. The Islanders will miss that, but Scott Mayfield still brings plenty of snarl to New York’s back end. No team defends better as a team than the Isles — especially when you consider what a disaster they were a year ago — and Carolina will need to patient.
On the Hurricanes side, the defense, as we all know, is loaded. They got back former Islander Calvin de Haan in Game 4 of Washington series, and you could argue he was New York’s best defenseman last season before he was hurt. On the Hurricanes, he’s probably No. 4 or 5.
They’re led by Jaccob Slavin, who is tied for the lead in playoff scoring among players who are still in the postseason. His nine assists in the Capitals series — capped by a brilliant three-assist night in Game 7 — should open even more eyes to Slavin’s offensive abilities.
Dougie Hamilton had a rough second half of the Washington series as Ovechkin targeted him and seemed to get the defenseman off their game. The Islanders have physical players, but no one who matches Ovechkin’s skill, strength and grit — no one does, really — so Hamilton should be able to get back to his game. It was lost in the fog of war, but he did have three goals and three assists in Round 1.
Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce, whether playing together or apart in Round 1, were rock solid in their first playoff series, and Trevor van Riemsdyk — clearly banged up after a tough opening round — played some of his best hockey in a Hurricanes sweater in the middle games against the Capitals.
Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss has stymied Carolina in his career, going 8-4-1. He was even more dominant this season, winning three of four with a .949 save percentage and 1.76 goals-against average against the Hurricanes.
Now for the good news: The only way the Hurricanes will face Greiss is if injury or misfortunate strike the Islanders. First-year Isles goalie Robin Lehner is a Vezina Trophy finalist after an inspiring bounce-back season, and he will man the nets.
Lehner’s story should sound familiar to the Hurricanes: Goalie with talent struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, but he overcomes it to rekindle his career.
That narrative didn’t work out so well for Carolina with Scott Darling — the goalie they signed before the 2017-18 season who flamed out in his first year in Raleigh and was waived and assigned to the AHL this year.
Lehner, however, proved he could be a No. 1 with the Isles, going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage this season. Like Darling, Lehner is massive — he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds — but he also moves well.
He was fantastic against the Penguins (4-0, .956, 1.47), but is 0-4 (.885, 4.25) in his career against the Hurricanes. That said, this is a different goalie than the one Carolina last saw in December 2016 when he was with the Sabres.
The Hurricanes will stick with Petr Mrazek, who continues to be clutch when Carolina needs him most. He has four shutouts in 18 career playoff games — including one in the first round — easily the best ratio of any active goaltender.
He’s also proven to be feisty, and his attitude and flare is something the Hurricanes have fed off of over the last few months. Curtis McElhinney is ready if needed, but Carolina — which hasn’t pulled its goalie all season — will go with Mrazek.
Still, one team has a Vezina finalist and the other doesn’t.
Edge: New York
The Islanders’ power play was nearly as bad as Carolina’s in Round 1, and for the season they ranked 29th at 14.5%. That’s music to the Hurricanes’ ears after they spent the first round eating Ovechkin slapshots and swiveling their heads for Nicklas Backstrom back-door tap-ins for seven games.
The Hurricanes’ penalty kill, eighth in the NHL at 81.6%, struggled at times against the Capitals (75%), but came up big when it mattered most in Game 7.
The power play was another story. Carolina converted just 3 of 25 opportunities (12%) and looked downright inept at times. It struggled on the road, in particular, scoring just once in 14 tries (7.1%).
The Islanders’ PK stymied Pittsburgh (90.9% kill) but was a middle-of-the-road 79.9% (tied for 16th) during the regular season.
It would be foolish to underestimate coach Rod Brind’Amour’s influence on these young Hurricanes. Couple that with Williams — who lived up to his Mr. Game 7 moniker with the primary assist on McGinn’s overtime winner in the clinching game against the Capitals — and Carolina has plenty going its way.
That said, Trotz has proven to be perhaps the NHL’s best coach. First, he got the Capitals over the hump last season for their first Stanley Cup, and this year he’s taken an Islanders team with few expectations after John Tavares’ departure for Toronto and made them the surprise of the league.
New York proved they were for real with its sweep of Pittsburgh and, like last season with Vegas, it would be foolish to overlook the Islanders because of what everyone thought of them before any games were played.
The Hurricanes are also hurting — the injuries to Ferland and Martinook certainly take a bite out of Carolina’s swagger — and New York has one of the best grinding lines in the league with Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. It’s a team that has had a chip on its shoulder all season, and they will keep it with many (foreshadowing?) already favoring the Hurricanes in this series.
Edge: New York
I was both right but ultimately wrong in Round 1 — I figured Carolina would give Washington a run for its money, but I took the Caps in seven. This might constitute picking against the wrong team again, but if the Hurricanes can beat the Capitals, they can beat the Islanders — especially if they get Svechnikov back and producing.
Series: Carolina in 6