The Hurricanes had to wait a long time to make their return to the playoffs and now that they’re back for the first time in a decade, they are making the most of it.
In a season highlighted with extravagant celebrations and scrappy wins, the story of the Bunch of Jerks isn’t done yet. A 5–2 Game 4 win and a four-game sweep of the Islanders gave the Hurricanes the first conference finals berth.
At first, it looked like the Islanders were going to make this one a lot tougher for Carolina, scoring early on a power play and putting together a strong start. But it didn’t take long for the Hurricanes to steal the momentum, capitalizing on their own man advantage when Adam Pelech had his stick between Jordan Staal’s legs and accidentally pushed the puck past his own goalie, Robin Lehner. Carolina’s power play (which was at an 8.8% success rate heading into the game) finally clicking would be a sign that it was ready to take full control of the series.
Things unraveled even more for the Islanders at the start of the second. Teuvo Teravainen scored 2:11 into the period and Greg McKegg followed up 66 seconds later. Barry Trotz opted to take his time out to regroup his team and replace Lehner with Thomas Greiss. There were rumors pre-game that Trotz might start with Greiss in net, but the coach shuffled the lines for Game 4 instead, and it seemed to give the team the jolt he was looking for at first. But as Carolina continued to apply pressure offensively, the line changes wouldn’t be enough and Trotz had to switch up his goaltenders in a desperation move to spark his team.
Shortly after the Hurricanes killed off a high-sticking penalty on Brock McGinn later in the second, Justin Williams scored on the team’s first shot on Greiss, with the Carolina captain earning his 100th career playoff point. Andrei Svechnikov scored with five minutes left in the third and Brock Nelson got one past Curtis McElhinney with 1:09 left, but it wouldn’t be enough to deflate Carolina’s record-breaking crowd of 19,495.
After spearheading an unbelievable run in a year that many predicted would be a forgettable one for the Islanders, Lehner ended his season exiled across the ice away from his team’s bench. Although there are likely a couple of goals Lehner would want back from this series, the losses are hardly his fault. The Islanders’ sweep of the Penguins in the first round featured a lot of strong defense and quick responses to squash any momentum Pittsburgh garnered. But they failed to bring that dominance to Round 2, scoring just five goals total against the Hurricanes and struggling defensively as the series wore on.
The Hurricanes’ most recent playoff run ended in a four-game sweep against the Penguins in 2009 before Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup. Since 2002, Carolina has made the playoffs four times and has reached the Eastern Conference Final each time. Before they make their return to Round 3 this year, the banged-up Canes will surely embrace the extra time off. Svechnikov and Jordan Martinook returned from injuries in Game 3, but they’re still waiting for goalie Petr Mrazek to return, as well as Micheal Ferland, Saku Maenalaen and Trevor van Riemsdyk. As all the other Round 2 series are destined to go at least six games, the Hurricanes should be well rested before taking on the winner of Bruins–Blue Jackets in the third round.