Based on informed series previews, this one lived up to the billing: Two organized, disciplined teams engaged in a game that could have turned either direction at any point, but for the play of both goaltenders who kept things level and on a knife’s edge through 64 minutes.
If anything, that last part was the surprise: Petr Mrazek matched Robin Lehner save for save (literally: 31 saves each), taking away the one clear perceived edge — other than rest — that the Isles took into the series. That included considerable special teams time, too, as each team was 0-for-4 on the power play (seven shots each) in regulation, though that included two extra minutes of man advantage for the Hurricanes.
Despite playing their second overtime game in 48 hours, the Hurricanes didn’t look worn out. On the contrary, their persistence on a botched counterattack keyed Staal’s OT winner.
First Period, First Impression: Sure looks like a long series
It took the Islanders a while to get going — not unexpected or at least feared given their long layoff — so the Hurricanes had the majority of chances of the opening minutes. But by the middle of the period the Islanders’ own discipline and patience paid off in the form of some serious scoring chances of their own.
Petr Mrazek made two or three highlight saves, the most prominent being a stop on a Josh Bailey breakaway after the Hurricanes’ defense jumped up too eagerly. Bailey was probably too deliberate setting up his backhand move, but it was still a solid attempt — Mrazek just read it perfectly.
Robin Lehner’s best stop of the period came in the final minute of the period, when a Devon Toews muffed a pass across the low slot right on to the stick of Game 7 hero Brock McGinn.
Thankfully, Lehner was there, stayed with McGinn, and the Isles defense followed up to make sure no rebound was shoveled in.
Overall, the Hurricanes definitely exhibited their frenetic forecheck, while the Islanders exhibited their positional discipline, patience and determination to lay some painful bodies on the Hurricanes’ mobile defense. That approach led to the first power play when Clutterbuck laid a heavy hit on Justin Williams, and the refs interpreted the next event as a retaliatory trip by the Canes captain.
The power play started off uneven, but ultimately accounted for five of the Islanders’ 11 first-period shots on goal.
On defense, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock once again led the way and must’ve made Barry Trotz proud with their smart, physical coverage.
It was a scoreless period, but if it’s any indication of how the series will go then it should be a long and entertaining one.
Second Period: The Officials Get in the Way
The Islanders started the second period off better than the first, steadily building waves of pressure on the Hurricanes. Among their closest chances: A Devon Toews point shot that rolled perilously down Mrazek’s right pad but ultimately to safety.
But the Isles weren’t perfect, and Lehner was called to duty on a few prime chances, handling each one with the calm that has become his trademark during this Vezina-caliber season.
The best was midway through the period, this stretching stop on a Greg McKegg breakaway after Toews was stripped by the linesman:
The Islanders received their second power play when Casey Cizikas was all alone in front, waited a moment for Mrazek to go down, and then was sticked by Jordan Staal to prevent him from getting a shot off.
Again they had trouble getting zone entries to begin with, though they eventually created a few mild chances and one great one-timer opportunity from Eberle to Barzal that the Calder Kid whiffed on.
The Hurricanes escaped a long stretch of Isles pressure with a potential three-on-two, but Valtteri Filppula was relentless on the backcheck and kept the open man Nino Niederreiter from getting a prime scoring chance.
Defensively, they were dialed in.
The Hurricanes received their first power play on an abysmal call: It was subjectively quite understandable to waive off an apparent Mathew Barzal goal because of Anders Lee’s contact with Mrazek, but Lucas Wallmark was at full tilt to drive Lee into Mrazek, who was outside the crease. Calling a goalie interference penalty on the play was over the top, and wrong.
Pelech was a warrior on the ensuing penalty kill, and Staal finished the job by getting called for a shaky “handling the puck on a faceoff” call with 12 seconds remaining on Carolina’s man advantage.
Staal probably only shoved the puck with the shaft of his stick between both hands, though his both-hands-to-the-ice action on the play is still probably the kind of faceoff move the league has been trying to remove when they created that penalty.
That split the Islanders power play over the intermission, and they didn’t get much in the remainder at the beginning of the third except for a Casey Cizikas shot that Mrazek caught high toward the neck.
Then with four seconds left on the penalty, the refs initially missed a Cal Clutterbuck high stick on Trevor van Riemsdyk off the faceoff. It was a bad miss, but the way they handled it was even worse: At first, they discussed it, then called nothing and lined up for the offensive zone faceoff.
But then, land ho! As blood started to appear on TVR’s neck, the refs huddled again and decided...four minutes! Now the faceoff’s at the other end. From nothing to see here to a double-minor in an incompetent instant.
The Islanders were solid on that PK too, though the Hurricanes created traffic to make things interesting. Fortunately the second half of the double-minor was wiped by a high-stick (no blood, but since they were in a scales-balancing mood, they decided this one warranted a high stick call even without a flesh wound) suffered by Filppula.
The Hurricanes were insanely close to scoring the first goal halfway through the period when Lehner was far out of the crease after a save, but his outstretched paddle and Nick Leddy’s shortstop posture robed the Canes. You might say “but Leddy says no,” if you want to drive a phrase into the ground.
Shortly after that, the Hurricanes went on the power play once again when Lee crosschecked Dougie Hamilton down in front of Mrazek on an Islanders rush. Again the Islanders penalty kill survived, with the mix of blocks, saves and good luck you need to keep that going.
With six minutes left McGinn was penalized after his stick rode up and hit Hickey in the face while following through on a check. The Islanders, the fans and the horn operator thought the Isles scored late on that one when a Ryan Pulock blast got caught on the clear protective plastic on the lower outside of the net to Mrazek’s right.
Nope. Thankfully, just like the waived off Lee goal in the second period, this one was signaled “no goal” very quickly thereby lessening the psychic blow.
That was the last really close chance before regulation ended, assuring a “he was clutch” overtime shutout victory for one of the goalies. The Islanders had the better of play over the final two periods, but not scoring — and having Lee’s goal called off — cost them.
#CARvsNYI Game 1 5v5 SVA Metrics via @NatStatTrick— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) April 27, 2019
Canes 51.52% Attempts
Isles 64.48% Scoring Chances
Isles 63.70% High Danger
Isles 58.71% Expected Goals
Goalies have been amazing. That’s not great for NYI - who have played great - but have a clear edge there.
Barzal had a couple of good looks in overtime, and he had a lot of jump that made you think the Isles might get the winner.
Alas, the best chance for the Islanders in overtime came when Leddy led a rush up ice and fed Clutterbuck, who made the wrong move at the Hurricanes blueline attempting to find Anthony Beauvillier. Beauvillier had turned the other way, creating a two-on-one the other way, played expertly by Devon Toews. However, while the Hurricanes didn’t convert on that chance, they kept the pressure on and the puck in the Isles zone. Staal ultimately finished it with a great low-angle shot after Niederreiter shot wide off the end boards.
And that's the game! Jordan Staal scores the overtime winner. pic.twitter.com/zrYmGzRUl4— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) April 27, 2019
Robin Lehner: “They win on a shit bounce. It is what it is.” #Isles— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) April 27, 2019
Four Random Questions
How was Barclays Center? Certainly not the barn-burning magic of the Coliseum — and many seats were still unoccupied well into the first period — but definitely alive with NHL playoff atmosphere. The crowd delivered. The NBC Sports broadcast started with a really high camera angle for some reason, though they later returned to normal. The ice looked pretty bad, or at least there were a lot of bouncing and bobbled pucks — though that gets more and more common just about everywhere during spring playoff weather.
How was Thomas Hickey? He was fine. I would call his approach careful, not taking too many risks in his first game action of the post season. He and Leddy should be alright together in Johnny Boychuk’s absence, and his mobility may even make up for the lefty-lefty pairing disadvantage.
How are we? Nervous as hell. All of the sudden that long layoff sounds really nice again.
Did the Isles Look Rusty? Did the Hurricanes Look Tired? Not really, on either count. The Isles were a bit slow at the start, but that’s about it. The Hurricanes were energetic all night and showed no effects of playing double overtime two nights ago.
Look, We Know It’s a Bummer, but Tampa Lost
Programming note: From the second round onward, NBC Sports has all games on U.S. broadcasts. But MSG will have post-game coverage for each game in the series, with Bill Pidto, Jennifer Botterill and Butch Goring in studio. Brendan Burke and AJ Mleczko, covering other series for NBC, will also join the MSG postgame at various times throughout the series.
Game 2 is in the same place Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT. Hopefully by then the Hurricanes will look like they’ve had an exhausting few weeks.