Islanders sticking to ‘staple’ of physical play to get back in series vs. Hurricanes

Islanders Hurricanes
Players collide in front of the New York Islanders goal during the first period of Game 3 of the team’s NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, April 21, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

ELMONT — The formula for the Islanders to level the playing field against a faster, more aggressive Carolina Hurricanes team is simple: Hit anything in red and white.

Across Games 2 and 3 — an overtime loss and a 5-1 win to draw back into the series trailing 2-1 — the Islanders have out-hit the Hurricanes 97-56.

“We play physical no matter what,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “All games in the playoffs are physical. It’s just playoff hockey. It’s certainly a tactic by every team playing, but we have to get in the team’s way. That’s one of the things to try and slow them down.”

Considering they’re one of the older, slower teams in the league, this is a tactic the Islanders have had to live by this season against quicker, younger teams. They ranked fifth in the NHL this season with 2,139 hits, which is the most of any team that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We have been extremely physical,” defenseman Adam Pelech said. “It’s playoff hockey so it’s going to be physical. That’s always a big part of it, right? It’s seven games. It wears the other team down. It always comes down to that. I think physical play is a big part of our game and will be moving forward.”

Those intentions were stated within 20 seconds of Game 1 against Carolina when Pelech’s blue-line partner, Ryan Pulock, laid out Jack Drury along the boards of the Islanders’ zone, and have been maintained since then. The heavy brand of hockey has helped limit the Hurricanes to just seven goals across their first three games of the series, including just one during Friday night’s Game 3 win at UBS Arena.

“You hope it just takes its toll the later the series goes on,” Islanders forward Zach Parise said. “They’ve got mobile defensemen, you have to get a piece of them. You can’t let them skate and get up in the rush. That’s how the playoffs are.

“Rarely do you see people skating by checks. That’s just how the game is played at this time of year. I think we’ve done a good job of that as trying to get a piece of them when we can.”

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