How about those ‘Bunch of Jerks?” The Carolina Hurricanes are going back to the Eastern Conference Final. Carolina defeated the New York Islanders by a final score of 5-2 in Game 4 of their second round series. This was the franchise’s first sweep in a best of seven series ever. The Whalers completed a sweep back in 1986 when the first round was still best of five.
The Hurricanes are making their fourth trip to the Eastern Conference Final. Previously, the Hurricanes went to the Eastern Conference Final in 2002, 2006, 2009. In two of those years, the Hurricanes went to the Stanley Cup Final. Carolina is hoping for history to repeat itself again.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Hurricanes Sweep Islanders
Being inside PNC Arena for Game 4, Hurricanes fans wanted their team to sweep the Islanders. They knew, just like the team knew, a trip back to Brooklyn was not in the cards. The atmosphere was electric when the teams hit the ice for warmups and as the Hurricanes hit the ice for Game 4 the fans stood in unison waving their rally towels. PNC Arena is one of the loudest buildings I have gone to for a hockey game.
Prior to puck drop, the team announced no brooms were allowed into the building. However, that didn’t stop fans from bringing brooms to tailgate outside the building prior to Game 4. Hockey is alive and well down in the state of North Carolina. While it might be Flair and football country, people in Raleigh sure do love their Hurricanes.
All season long the Hurricanes, have played like their coach Rod Brind’Amour would have played during his playing career. Carolina plays a fast and attacking style of game. The Hurricanes take away the opponent’s time and space really well. That was on display in Game 4 once Carolina took the lead. As good as the Hurricanes are offensively, Carolina is also great on defense. Carolina did not give the Islanders much offensively as their defense just took away every good scoring chance. Not to mention the fact, their goaltending has been superb all season and playoffs long.
Speaking of their head coach Rod Brind’Amour, he has been a part of every run by Carolina to the Eastern Conference Final dating back to 2002. To add that even further, Brind’Amour played an important factor in every series clinching game. In fact, he assisted on the game winning goals in 2002 and 2006. He then scored the game tying goal in 2009 and in his first season as the team head coach brought them to the Conference Final. Brind’Amour should have been nominated for coach of the year.
Both teams came out slow to begin Game 4. Once the Islanders scored a power play goal to go up 1-0, this was the wake up call the Hurricanes needed. Carolina answered with a power play goal of their own to tie the game. From that point on it was pure domination from the Hurricanes. Carolina scored the next four goals to give a 5-1 lead. New York would add a meaningless goal late in the third period to make the final score 5-2.
Carolina’s top players played like top players. Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen, Warren Foegele, and the list goes on. All these players played an important role in the teams sweep of the Islanders. Not to mention the fact, the Hurricanes saw Andrei Svechnikov return to the lineup in Game 3 of the series. Carolina carried the momentum from their Game 7 win over the Capitals into this series.
On the other hand, the Islanders saw no production from their top players. Mathew Barzal had two goals in the series. Jordan Eberle who was red hot in the first round, did not register a goal in the series. Carolina did not let the Islanders breathe. Every chance the Hurricanes got, they were hitting an Islanders player. However, considering how well the Islanders were playing to get swept by the Hurricanes is a tough pill to swallow.
Game 4 was the only blow out of the series as the first three games were very closely contested games. As Islanders head coach Barry Trotz stated, Carolina took advantage of three opportunities in the first three games. Jordan Staal scored the game winner in overtime in Game 1. In Game 2, Carolina scored two goals in less than two minutes to win the game. And in Game 3, Justin Williams took advantage of an ill-advised clear by Robin Lehner. That was the series in a but shell.
Coming into the series goaltending would be the difference. For most of the series it was a goaltending battle. Robin Lehner played great for the Islanders, unfortunately, the Hurricanes just had his number. He gave his team every chance to win the first three games. The Islanders made a goalie switch in Game 4 pulling Lehner in favor of Thomas Greiss. Inserting Greiss was a move to spark the Islanders. It didn’t pay off. They looked like a defeated team after 3-1.
On the other hand, the duo of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney paid dividends again. After Mrazek left Game 2 with an apparent groin injury, McElhinney came in and stopped all 17 shots he faced. He picked up his first playoff win as a starter in Game 3 at the age of 35. And played excellent in Game 4. McElhinney continues to prove why he was the best pick up during the season. He kept coming up with the timely saves, especially in Game 2, when the Islanders had chances to increase their lead.
Carolina will get some time off and will await the winner of the Boston-Columbus series. Hopefully the time off will not hurt the Hurricanes the way it hurt the Islanders.
Notes: For the first time since 1993 and 9th time in NHL history, Carolina sweeps a team that was coming off a 4-0 series win in the previous round. The last team do accomplish this feat was the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal beat Buffalo, who beat previously beat Boston 4-0 in the first round. Carolina is also the 11th team in NHL history to win a Game 7 and sweep the next series in the same postseason.
Photo Credit: Jim Biringer