It was no secret that special teams were going to play a pivotal role in the Islanders’ first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes — and the importance of it became immediately apparent.
The Hurricanes scored a pair of power-play goals while the Islanders went 0-for-4, including a lifeless man advantage with 4:59 to go in the game, to secure a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal at PNC Arena on Monday night.
The Islanders’ power play, which ranked 30th in the NHL this season was given a lifeline late in the game when Brent Burns was called for a slash. But they mustered just one shot as Carolina’s aggressive defense proved too difficult for New York to handle.
Sebastian Aho got the Hurricanes on the board early in the first period and just five seconds into their power play following a Hudson Fasching trip. Off the face-off in the Islanders zone, a clean win by Martin Necas drew it back to Brent Burns, who found a wide-open Aho at the left circle for the one-timed conversion just 3:47 into the game.
It took the Islanders time to find their legs. In the opening 6:40, they were outshot 8-1. But a Paul Stastny slash of the Islanders’ Sebastian Aho gave the visitors an opportunity to stabilize. While they didn’t convert two Grade-A opportunities in close for Anders Lee or Mathew Barzal, they outshot Carolina 9-6 the rest of the period.
After the Islanders couldn’t capitalize on a second power play that spanned between the first and second periods, the Hurricanes nabbed their second on the man advantage after a Ryan Pulock slashing penalty denied a simple tap-in goal for Stefan Noesen.
It was Noesen who wound up getting his goal on a deflection in front of Ilya Sorokin 2:27 into the second. Sorokin was superb for most of the night, making 35 saves.
Just 24 seconds later, though, Pulock got it right back when a tame wrister that he fanned on rolled off Antti Raanta’s stick and into the back of the net.
Raanta made up for it just 1:20 later when Horvat found a wide-open Barzal on a rush down the middle by denying the returning Islanders star of a breakaway chance by stacking the pads on a wrister looking to go five-hole.
The Islanders continued to play without composure, racking up two more penalties for a grand total of three in the first eight minutes of the second period — though they managed to kill off each of those next pair.
Carolina nearly had a third in the final seconds of the period when they jammed a rolling puck toward the goal line, but Adam Pelech cleared it from Sorokin’s left post to keep the deficit at one heading into the third.
Raanta denied Lee and Pierre Engvall on solo point-blank opportunities early in the third as the Islanders continued to lack a finishing touch while Sorokin continued to keep his side in it — most notably with a sliding save on a cross-ice one-timer by Seth Jarvis midway through the period.
Following the final missed power-play chance, the Islanders found a way to put last-gasp pressure on Raanta’s net with Sorokin pulled, but the Hurricanes netminder held firm in the dying seconds, capping off a 26-save victory.