Series preview: Hurricanes, Islanders meet again

Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho faces off against the Islanders’ J-P Pageau on March 19 in Elmont, New York. Carolina and New York will start their first round playoff series Saturday at PNC Arena. (Adam Hunger / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — For the second consecutive season and the third time in six years, the Hurricanes and Islanders will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs when their first round series starts Saturday with Game 1 at PNC Arena.

Carolina dispatched New York in six games last season, clinching the series on a bad-angle shot by Paul Stastny six minutes into overtime of the deciding game at UBS Arena.

The Hurricanes also swept the Islanders in 2019 to advance to the Eastern Conference final.

While the NHL would have certainly embraced a Rangers-Islanders series in the opening round, the league and fans will instead get Round 3 between the Metropolitan Division’s second and third place teams.

“I think there’s definitely animosity any time you play a team multiple years in a row,” Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce said after Wednesday’s practice. “Look at us and Boston a few years back. We’re all competitive guys — you can’t not be competitive to be in this league.

“So when someone knocks you out of your season, it’s gonna sting — we’ve been on that end of it. So there’s definitely going to be some animosity. But the first round is always the hardest, in my opinion. So it’s gonna be a good test.”

The Hurricanes finished the season with the NHL’s third-best record at 52-23-7. The Islanders, meanwhile, lost more games than they won during the regular season, finishing 39-27-16, but New York went 20-12-5 after firing Lane Lambert and hiring Patrick Roy just past the campaign’s midway point.

“He’s got them playing really well,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Roy. “I don’t know if there’s a ton of differences in the lineups necessarily, but just their mindset for sure and the way they play and (are) playing, certainly, as a group of 20, and you can see that.”

But the series won’t be won by the coaches — for the record, Brind’Amour went 11-6-3 vs. Roy with 19 points in 20 games as a player — but rather the players. Here’s how the Hurricanes and Islanders match up on the ice.


The Islanders have three 60-point forwards, led by Mathew Barzal, who had 80 points and a career-high 23 goals. Brock Nelson (69 points, team-high 34 goals) and Bo Horvat (33 goals, 68 points) always seem to play well against Carolina, and veteran Kyle Palmieri and captain Anders Lee may be on the downslope of their careers, but both can still be effective.

New York’s problem will be matching the Hurricanes’ depth. While Pierre Engvall has his flashes of near-greatness and Simon Holmstrom has established himself as a full-time NHLer, the forward ranks are thin on difference-makers.

Carolina, meanwhile, has assembled one of the league’s best top lines since it slotted deadline addition Jake Guentzel opposite Seth Jarvis on Sebastian Aho’s wing. With Andrei Svechnikov playing alongside Jordan Staal, Martin Necas and Teuvo Teravainen flanking Jack Drury, and Evgeny Kuznetsov centering a fourth line with double-digit goal scorers Stefan Noesen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, It will be hard for the Isles to match up with the Hurricanes shift after shift.


Noah Dobson has had a breakthrough year, and the Islanders defenseman will likely get plenty of votes for the Norris Trophy. He’s trending toward playing in Game 1 after suffering a late-season upper-body injury.

Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech used to be talked about as one of the more underrated pairings in the league, but both players’ underlying numbers are headed in the wrong direction. Alexander Romanov shows flashes of being a factor and can alter a game with his physicality, but he still hasn’t blossomed into what the Islanders expected when they gave up their 2022 first round lottery pick to acquire him from Montreal.

Whoever makes up New York’s bottom pair will likely have their hands full, especially when Carolina gets final change on home ice in Games 1 and 2.

Defense is Carolina’s strength, and the team has five players who would probably play first pairing minutes on many, if not most, teams around the league.

Jaccob Slavin is arguably the league’s best defensive defenseman, Brent Burns is still a dominant player at age 39, and New York probably wishes Pulock and Pelech were what Pesce and Brady Skjei are. Dmitry Orlov on the third pairing gives the Hurricanes an embarrassment of riches, and Jalen Chatfield is an underrated and speedy complement to his sturdy Russian partner.


Both teams feel confident sending out either of their goalies. The Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin might be the most talented goaltender in the league, even if he’s had a down 2023-24. Veteran Semyon Varlamov enters the postseason having won five straight decisions and earning a point in nine of his 10 games since the start of March.

Would Roy go with the hot hand over last year’s Vezina runner-up? Even if he doesn’t, I wouldn’t expect him to wait long into the series to go to Varlamov should Sorokin stumble.

The Hurricanes have a similar dilemma — also known as a good problem to have. Both Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov have played well enough to earn the Game 1 start, but only one can be in the net on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Brind’Amour hasn’t shown his hand yet, and it’s possible he would even rotate the two goalies as he did down the stretch in the regular season.

“I think everything’s on the table,” Brind’Amour said Wednesday when asked about using both goalies. “Health is going to be a big question and staying fresh and all that, so it’s just nice to know that we have two guys that are playing at that level.”

Special teams

If this series comes down to special teams, chances are it will be over quickly in Carolina’s favor. The Hurricanes have the league’s best combined special teams, ranking first on the penalty kill and second on the power play,

The Islanders, meanwhile, are in the bottom half of the league on the power play at No. 19 and have the NHL’s worst penalty kill. If this series goes to five-on-four frequently, chances are Carolina will be able to dispatch New York quickly.

Intangibles and prediction

The Hurricanes’ two deadline additions, Guentzel and Kuznetsov, both received Conn Smythe Trophy consideration as playoff MVP in their respective Cup-winning seasons, and Carolina is more battled-tested than the Islanders.

New York will probably need to muck things up and get physical to try and knock the Hurricanes off their game.

Carolina, however, will just have too much for the Islanders to handle, and the Hurricanes will advance to Round 2 with a gentleman’s sweep.

Hurricanes in 5