Category 5: Hurricanes attempt to complete sweep

Carolina can close out its series with the Islanders on Saturday afternoon

Defenseman Jalen Chatfield and the Hurricanes can close out their first round series with the Islanders on Saturday in Game 4 at UBS Arena. (Frank Franklin II / AP Photo)

ELMONT, N.Y. — For the first time since a play-in series against the Rangers in the 2020 playoff bubble, the Hurricanes have won three consecutive games in a series, taking Games 1-3 against the Islanders. In Saturday’s matinee at UBS Arena, Carolina will try to orchestrate its first sweep since 2019, when it won all four against the Isles to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference final.

1. Former Hurricanes captain Justin Williams once said that closing out a playoff series is about taking away the will of your opponents. Carolina will look to do that Saturday.

“If you could do it like that, yep,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “But it’s easier said than done. You gotta go out and be ready. We’ve played these guys. It’s been tough, tough battles (for) every inch of ice, and that’s what we’re gonna expect.”

There’s not one path to winning a Stanley Cup. In the salary cap era, two Cup winners had first round sweeps, two more played in seven game series, seven won their opening series in five games and six needed six games to advance to the second round.

The Hurricanes would certainly welcome a short series — something they were unable to do against the Islanders last year, needing six games — that would allow the team to rest up for what looks like a collision course with the Rangers, who are also up 3-0 in their opening series.

Just two teams in the cap era have come back from 3-0 deficits: the 2010 Flyers rallied to beat the Bruins in seven games, and the Kings won their first of three Game 7s on the way to the 2014 Cup by winning four straight against the Sharks.

2. Brind’Amour said he expects his lineup to be the same for Saturday’s Game 4, but he did leave the door open for a change in goal.

Frederik Andersen made his third straight start in Game 3, the first time he’s done that since last year’s playoffs. There certainly wouldn’t be a change due to Andersen’s performance.

Nearly every pundit said coming into the postseason that Carolina’s goaltending was its big question mark, but only the Rangers (five goals allowed) have given up fewer goals than the Hurricanes (six) early in the postseason. Andersen’s .922 save percentage trails only the Blueshirts’ Igor Shesterkin (.933).

Andersen’s durability, however, has always been a concern, and Brind’Amour said the team was considering going to Pyotr Kochetkov.

“The wear and tear. Last night was a busy night for him,” Brind’Amour said of Andersen’s 31-save Game 3 win when asked why the team would consider giving him Game 4 off. “We’ll obviously make that decision here shortly, but I think that’s what is maybe holding up any ‘let’s just go to him’ right away. We’ve got to make sure he’s ready to go.”

Forward Stefan Noesen praised Andersen’s play since he returned from injured reserve late in the regular season.

“He’s doing obviously a fantastic job for us,” Noesen said after Friday’s optional skate. “He went through a lot this year, and to see him doing what he’s doing is — I’d say we expect it from him, but you expect it from him because he’s such a good goaltender.

“It’s good to see him back, good to see him having fun, in form and he’s making big saves when we need him to.”

3. The Islanders’ goalie carousel will continue. Coach Patrick Roy went to Ilya Sorokin for Game 3 after playing Semyon Varlamov in the two games in Raleigh, but Sorokin lasted just over 27 minutes before being pulled after allowing three goals.

Roy is going back to the veteran Varlamov in a must-win Game 4.

Varlamov did not allow a goal after coming on in relief in Game 3, but he also only faced eight shots. It will be his first time playing in four consecutive games since late in the 2021-22 season, when he started a game March 26, had to come on in relief for an injured Sorokin the next night, and then started New York’s next three games before yielding the net to Cory Schneider, who played his final career NHL game on April 3.

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and assist in Game 1 and has had a couple of “wow” moments in the first three games of the playoffs despite playing limited minutes.

Kuznetsov was among the players who skated Friday, as did new linemates Stefan Noesen and Jack Drury, and he’s been credited with being a stabilizing voice in the locker room.

“I think he’s been better off the ice than anything,” Brind’Amour said Friday. “That’s, I think, a guy that’s been around and knows what it takes to win at this time of year.”

Noesen said there’s been a learning curve playing with Kuznetsov because of his ability to slow down the game and think it in a way few are able.

“It’s definitely different than people I’ve usually played with,” Noesen said. “People I play with are a lot more cut-and-dried. The way he thinks the game, which is obviously a very good thing, it’s also a weird thing for someone to get used to. And when we don’t play as many minutes, it’s hard to get used to it even more.

“Because he does want to slow it down, where Jack (Drury) and I or whoever is with us, we just want to go and muck and grind, that’s where I’m most successful is below the goal line, same with Jack. So it’s a very different dynamic. You see brilliances of it and you also see some minor hiccups in general, and that’s just because we’re still getting used to playing with each other.”

Noesen said Kuznetsov will do something that, in hindsight, is the veteran center seeing the game on a different level.

“He makes those plays that are so little and he sees the game way differently than the way I do,” Noesen said. “He’s so offensively gifted and slows that down to a whole different degree that sometimes it’s hard to see what he sees. And then when you look at it and you look at the bigger picture of it, it’s obviously right there right in front of your eyes.”

5. A few statistical tidbits after three games:

  • Andrei Svechnikov leads the team with four points, all assists, with five other players with three points. Svechnikov’s four even-strength points are tied for the most in the playoffs heading into Friday’s games.
  • Drury is plus-4 through three games and has been on the right side of the plus/minus ledger in each game.
  • Jaccob Slavin leads the team with eight shots on goal, while Teuvo Teravainen has just one — his Game 2 power play goal.
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau led the Islanders in faceoff win percentage in the regular season at 55.4% but has won just 13 of 33 (39.4%) in the series.
  • Among players who have played in at least two games this postseason, Jordan Martinook leads the league in Corsi For percentage (71.56%) and ranks first among Hurricanes forwards in 5-on-5 ice time (45:31).
  • No Islanders player is above 50% in Corsi For percentage and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is a team-low 23.53% — the worst among any defenseman in the playoffs with at least two games played.