Category 5: Hurricanes can eliminate Islanders at home in Game 5

Carolina holds a 3-1 series lead and has won eight of its last nine playoff games at PNC Arena

Hurricanes forward Mackenzie MacEachern, second from left, celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during Carolina’s 5-2 Game 4 win over the Islanders on Sunday Elmont, New York. (Frank Franklin II / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes can close out their first round series with the New York Islanders on Tuesday when they host Game 5 at PNC Arena. Carolina posted a 5-1 win Sunday on Long Island — the team’s first regulation road playoff win since April 28, 2019.

1. The Hurricanes’ infirmary grew by another player in Game 4 when forward Jack Drury was knocked out of the game just 3:30 in following a boarding penalty by Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock.

Drury will not play in Game 5, though Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour did say the rookie forward was not concussed on the play.

Tuesday’s morning skate nearly claimed a couple more players. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere left the ice early, grimacing as he exited toward the locker room, and partner Jalen Chatfield got tangled up with Seth Jarvis near the end of the skate.

“He should be fine,” Brind’Amour said of Gostisbehere. Chatfield, meanwhile, just took a shot to an unfortunate area.

The coach seems to be taking the mounting injuries — even the short-lived ones — in stride.

“We’ve been banged up pretty good,” he said. “So at this point, what’s another one almost, you know?”

Goalie Frederik Andersen also returned to the ice after his illness-turned-injury status kept him from dressing in the last three games. He is expected to back up Antti Raanta on Tuesday.

One final note on injuries: Andrei Svechnikov was spotted in the Hurricanes’ workout area adjacent to the locker room rehabbing from his knee surgery — he even got a scream from Jordan Martinook when his teammate saw him after leaving the ice. It’s obviously a long road ahead for the Carolina winger, but I don’t think anyone doubts he will put in the work.

2. All the injuries mean more opportunities for other players, whether that’s Mackenzie MacEachern jumping into the lineup in Game 4 and notching a goal and an assist in Game 4, Raanta seizing the reins of the No. 1 goalie job or Derek Stepan returning to the lineup Tuesday with Drury unavailable.

Stefan Noesen has talked frequently this year about getting a chance to play in more important situations this season than any time in his career, and he said it’s “just in our nature” for hockey players to be ready to take on a bigger role.

“I’ve gotten more ice as time has gone on this year, and you don’t take that for granted,” Noesen said Monday. “I’ve been through a lot in my career, same with Mac, same with some of the other guys too, and any chance you get to get a chance to prove that you belong in the NHL, and let alone this is playoffs — it’s the best time of the year.”

Noesen knew what to expect from MacEachern on Sunday. Not only have the two trained together in the past, but MacEachern was on the Springfield Thunderbirds team that Noesen and the Chicago Wolves faced in the Calder Cup finals last year.

“We had a couple of heated exchanges, actually, in the finals last year,” MacEachern said. “So it’s funny that you’re competing against those guys, then all of a sudden you’re teammates with them.”

3. I asked Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho if playing alongside a new player with whom you have little chemistry leads to a line simplifying its play, and he said Carolina’s systems allow anyone to play anywhere and not miss a beat. Those systems, MacEachern said, are “95%” similar to what the AHL’s Wolves play.

“A lot of credit to him to just go out there and he wasn’t afraid or anything — he just played hockey and played with his instincts,” Aho said. “That was a good thing, obviously. I didn’t expect to him do anything but play his game, and obviously he played a really good game and helped my game as well.”

It helps that MacEachern isn’t a wide-eyed rookie jumping into the lineup but rather a 29-year-old veteran of seven professional seasons.

“He’s definitely playing mature hockey, skates really well for a guy with size like that,” Aho said. “And it obviously helps to bring the speed to the line. I like to play a fast-paced game, and he definitely can keep up with that.”

4. Speaking of Aho, the Hurricanes’ top players were also their best players on Sunday. Aho had a goal and two assists, Seth Jarvis scored twice and Martin Necas had a power play goal. The top line of Aho, Jarvis and MacEachern combined for four goals and seven points, with five of those points coming at even strength.

The second line, however, hasn’t been as successful at 5-on-5.

Carolina started the series with Jesperi Kotkaniemi centering Noesen and Necas, and none of those players have an even-strength point in the series. Brind’Amour shuffled his middle two lines in Game 4, flipping Noesen and Martinook, and will seemingly start Game 5 the same way. Martinook has also been held without a point all series.

The good news, of course, is Carolina has notched two of its three wins by scoring multiple power play goals. The Hurricanes ranked eighth on the power play among the 16 playoff teams at 26.3% after Monday’s games, and Carolina’s iron-clad penalty kill has been even better than it was in the regular season, killing 11 of 12 Islanders’ power plays for a playoff-best 91.7% success rate through four games.

Both teams have scored one shorthanded goal in the series.

5. The Rangers looked like they were ready to roll through the Devils after winning the first two games of that series on the road. Instead, New Jersey responded with back-to-back wins at MSG to even the series.

The presents Carolina with a great opportunity on Tuesday: Win and finish off the Islanders, and a long rest awaits.

Chances are a second round series, if Carolina advances, against the Rangers or Devils wouldn’t begin until Monday or Tuesday of next week at the earliest, so knocking out the Isles in five games would give the Hurricanes close nearly a week to mend after being bruised and battered in the first round.

It would also allow Raanta to rest. The 33-year-old will play his 32nd game of the season on Tuesday, and he broke down in last year’s playoffs when he played 13 games in 29 days in back-to-back seven-game series.

It’s a no-brainer to go with Raanta in Game 5: He has been lights-out at PNC Arena the last two years, and Andersen is surely rusty and probably hasn’t enthralled Brind’Amour with his playoff absences the last two years.

Even if Carolina were to lose Tuesday, Game 6 wouldn’t be until Friday on Long Island. You can bet the Hurricanes are hoping to complete a gentleman’s sweep and rest up for whichever opponent emerges from the Devils-Rangers series.