It wasn’t without late-season drama, but the Hurricanes secured their third straight division title Thursday, winning 6-4 in Florida to earn the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
With Carolina beating the Panthers, they finished one point ahead of the second-place Devils and also bumped Florida to the second wild card spot, meaning the Hurricanes will face the Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Islanders, who clinched a playoff berth Wednesday with a win over Montreal, lost three of four games against the Hurricanes this season.
The Hurricanes finished the season 52-21-9 with 113 points, while the Islanders were 42-31-9 for 93 points, returning to the postseason for the fourth time in five years after missing the playoffs last season.
The four meetings of the season were:
- A 6-2 Islanders win on Oct. 28 in Raleigh with two points each from Brock Nelson (two goals), Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. Beauvillier has since been traded to Vancouver in the Bo Horvat deal, and Barzal hasn’t played since Feb. 18. Barzal did return to the ice Wednesday before the Islanders’ morning skate.
- A 3-0 Hurricanes win on Dec. 10 on Long Island in which Paul Stastny scored his first goal with Carolina and both Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jordan Staal found the back of the net. Pyotr Kochetkov earned the shutout, making 16 saves as the Hurricanes outshot the Islanders 29-16.
- A 5-2 Hurricanes win on Jan. 21 at UBS Arena that included Sebastian Aho (Carolina’s Finnish forward, not the Isles’ Swedish defenseman) recording one of his three hat tricks on the regular season. Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots to earn the win and even his record against New York, and Staal and Jesper Fast also scored goals.
- A 2-1 Hurricanes win on April 2 with Jordan Martinook snapping a 1-1 tie early in the third period. Kotkaniemi also scored, and Andersen stopped 21 of 22 shots.
The Hurricanes are the only team against which Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin — a likely Vezina Trophy finalist this season — lost three times. He was 1-3-0 with a .911 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average against Carolina this season, and for his career, he is 2-4-0 with a .908 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against average.
Carolina will host Games 1 and 2 at PNC Arena, with the first game of the series schedule for Monday, April 17, and Game 2 on Wednesday, April 19. The start times for both games have not yet been announced.
Given that the Islanders’ UBS Arena hosts events on April 20 and 22, Games 3 and 4 on Long Island seem likely on April 21 and 23.
But things don’t always make sense, so we’ll get more clarity once the schedule is updated.
The franchises have met just once before in the postseason, in the second round of the playoffs in 2019 when Carolina swept New York in a closer-than-it-appears series. The Hurricanes won Game 1 on the road 1-0 in overtime on a Staal goal before eeking out a 2-1 win in Game 2 with two goals in the first 65 seconds of the third period.
Game 3 in Raleigh was also close, with Justin Williams breaking a 2-2 tie midway through the third period before Carolina added two empty-net goals in a 5-2 win. The Hurricanes closed out the series at home in Game 4 with another 5-2 win.