RALEIGH — The Hurricanes and Islanders might be on a collision course for a first round playoff matchup, and Sunday’s game at PNC Arena had similar stakes and a postseason feel.
Come playoff time, Carolina will certainly take that kind of effort and result.
Jordan Martinook scored early in the third period — ending a 24-game goal drought — to break a tie, and the Hurricanes limited New York to just a handful of legitimate chances in a 2-1 win in front of 18,725 fans.
“That team is playing for their lives,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the Islanders, who are trying to hold onto a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. “And I thought we looked like the team that was maybe a little more desperate. So I think that’s that says a lot about the group for me.”
The win, coupled with the Devils’ loss in Winnipeg, gave Carolina a three-point lead in the Metropolitan Division with six games left in the regular season. New Jersey has five games left.
The game-winning goal developed after defenseman Jaccob Slavin chipped the puck ahead to Martinook to create an odd-man rush.
Martinook carried the puck up ice with Sebastian Aho to his right. Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech, trailing the play, hooked Aho to slow him, but Martinook kept the puck for himself and shot short side past Ilya Sorokin (31 saves) at 2:31 of the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
“I wasn’t going to try and feather one in when (Aho) was getting kind of hauled down there,” Martinook said of his decision to shoot. “I went there earlier in the game and he got me, and I just tried to go quick and it went in.”
Once they had the lead, the Hurricanes hunkered down in their end — there were only a total of 20 even-strength shot attempts in the third period, including just three high-danger chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Frederik Andersen (21 saves) wasn’t challenged much in the opening 45 minutes, but he made key stops down the stretch to secure the win — none bigger than a save on a Bo Horvat shot from the slot when the Islanders had a late power play.
“We’re out there as a unit,” Andersen said. “And obviously whatever four guys are out there, they’re working so extremely hard just to do their individual job, and I got to do mine.”
The Islanders only scored once on Andersen, thanks in part to their diamond-in-the-rough trade deadline acquisition.
Pierre Engvall — who now has five goals and eight points in his first 14 games since coming to New York in a trade with Toronto — backed off the Carolina defense while driving toward the net and passed to Jean-Gabriel Pageau for a one-timer that beat Andersen and gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 17:33 of the opening period.
The Hurricanes tied the score just before the midway point of regulation.
Stefan Noesen helped Carolina enter the zone with speed by hitting Jesse Puljujarvi in stride with a pass. Puljujarvi dished to Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the right circle, and his shot snuck through Sorokin to make it 1-1 at 9:27 of the second period.
It was the first point for Puljujarvi with the Hurricanes in his 11th game since being traded to Raleigh on Feb. 28.
“For our line, we finally got one,” Kotkaniemi said of his line scoring to tie the game. “To see Jesse get his first point, he’s been, I feel, playing really good lately.”
The win also sent a message to the Islanders, who are currently lined up to face Carolina in the first round of the playoffs.
“They’re probably one of the biggest candidates to play against us in the playoffs,” Kotkaniemi said. “So it’s great to get one game against him now and see where they are and how the games are gonna be.”
“I guess that doesn’t hurt either,” Brind’Amour said.
Notes: Puljujarvi’s assist was his first point since Feb. 23 when he was still with the Oilers. … Twelve Hurricanes skaters had time on the penalty kill. … Martinook’s team-high five shots on goal matched his season high. … Jack Drury had four shots on goal and has a total of 19 in his last five games. He has 31 shots in 11 games since he was recalled, compared to 32 in his first 21 games this year. … After winning only 42% of faceoffs in both the first and second periods, the Hurricanes won 15 of 22 (68%) in the third period.