My goodness, Carolina. When they resurrected Paul Maurice but didn't immediately improve, I'd given them up for dead. But each time the Islanders faced them after the dumping of Peter Laviolette, something nagged me. There was just something about the Canes' unity of purpose, even when falling behind, that I haven't seen in most opponents this season. Unlike several teams when facing the last-place Islanders, the Hurricanes did not take anything for granted.
Now they've clinched a playoff spot and are tied in points with Philly for fourth in the East. They're not world beaters, but they've been performing in sync for a solid month now. At Canes Country, they're explaining the Hurricanes' stunning turnaround by citing the team's improved overall defense -- stabilized by Cam Ward's stellar play -- over that time.
New York Islanders (26-43-9, 30th) @ Carolina Hurricanes (44-28-7, 5th/E)
7:05 EDT | [some bank or what-not] Center | MSG+2 (twice the plus!)
Blog me like a Hurricane: Canes Country
With home ice in the playoffs at stake, there's no reason to expect the Canes to let off the pedal tonight at home, where they haven't lost in seven weeks. A win would make Carolina the second Southeast team (with Washington) to sweep the Islanders this season.
They're facing an Islanders club that will end the season the way it began: with a ridiculous list of injuries. Kyle Okposo remains out -- although he's getting consideration for the World Championships. Mark Streit, my obvious choice for team Norris and MVP (more on those later today),
is questionable [UPDATE: Logan reports both Streit and Sean Bergenheim will be back in the lineup]. Even Bruno Gervais left practice early to have his shoulder examined. Add the other long-term injuries and we're likely to see the 22nd Islander to make his NHL debut this season.
Around the NHL
This is one of an eye-popping 13 games on the schedule tonight. Last night, the Senators did what the Islanders couldn't by helping the Panther's playoff hopes with a shock come-from-behind win in Montreal. Chris Campoli had a goal by pinching in, in a very Go-Go Gordon-like fashion. Hmm.
As young pups who have never tasted the playoffs and only recently tasted NHL hockey, the Islanders will be excited spectators rather than bitter bystanders once the playoffs begin. They're just looking at finishing this development year in a happy place, which suits Scott Gordon just fine:
"Obviously," Gordon said, "the second half, the last 32 games [in which they are 14-14-4], and throw in the combination of 30-plus one-goal losses and [losses that would have been by one goal without] empty-netters, and you look at the potential that's there for us next year. You know, what does a true No. 1 goalie do for you in those games? The goaltending [with] Ricky can be a big swing for us."
A lot of different factors could be a swing for next season, though I'm not holding my breat that DiPietro is one of them. Still, with 30th place now all but secured, we can count on one future star entering next season's lineup.
Check back later today for more on our picks for the Islanders end-of-season awards, and later tonight for the live Canes-Islanders game thread.