The Islanders didn’t stay out of the box, but they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, and they got the goaltending performance they’d — okay, we’d — been waiting for. They also received goals from some go-to guys as well as trade deadline acquisition, Handsome Pierre.
Ilya Sorokin had a standout game, beginning at the very start when he stopped Jordan Staal’s backhand move on a clear breakaway, and continuing as the Hurricanes dominated possession the first 10 minutes. If it was going to be an ugly elimination game in front of a rabid crowd, the ingredients were there.
Instead, while Sorokin held the fort, the Islanders got a...first-period goal? Yes, a goal.
It started at the midway point, when Pierre Engvall made a good forecheck, but Brent Burns was shockingly casual with his shovel up the boards as the Hurricanes changed. Brock Nelson read it and intercepted, and in one swoop sent it to Engvall, who’d headed to the net and deposited it past Antti Raanta.
That was huge. The Islanders, you see, they’re not to scoring in the first period in postseason games.
First time in 10 playoff games #Isles have scored in the first period— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) April 25, 2023
And on those rare occasions where they have scored, they’re not used to holding a lead in the first, either.
But they did it, due in no small part to Sorokin, as they were officially outshot 11-5 in the first.
Also: due in no small to a coach’s challenge for offside. With Alex Romanov in the box late in the period, the Hurricanes moved the puck easily and put one in to tie the game...or so they thought. It wasn’t really close:
The successful challenge meant the Isles “killed” the penalty and reached the intermission with their lead intact.
Second Period: As you were
If you were worried about the fragility of the one-goal lead — and you were, you know you were — Nelson and Engvall combined to provide the perfect antidote by notching a second goal early.
It was a crazy play: Engvall circled to the high slot and sent a high shot through traffic that hit Sebastian Aho The Lesser in the face, drawing blood. As the puck bounced off Eveil Aho’s face, Nelson patiently watched it come down below crossbar level, then batted it in.
It was injury on top of insult for the Canes, as Aho had to leave temporarily for repairs and to count missing teeth.
The Isles generally stayed disciplined in this game, but there were exceptions, including an unnecessary Cal Clutterbuck knee on Jesperi Kotkanaemi.
The Islanders killed that off, again thanks to a five-alarm stop like this...:
...but a few cycles through the lines later, the Identity Line got hemmed in for too long and eventually paid for it. Paul Stastny deflected in a point shot to get the Hurricanes on the board at 13:10.
Jordan Staal gave the Isles their second power play of the game on a trip of Hudson Fasching, but that only lasted 30 seconds before Noah Dobson took an interference penalty as Barzal carried into the zone.
As it turns out, 4-on-4 is far preferable to an Islanders power play! Barzal successfully pokechecked at the Islanders line, and went 2-on-1 the other way with Bo Horvat. Barzal, always a candidate to pass, used the time afforded him and sold pass — or, well he said during the intermission he really wanted to pass — before firing with authority inside the far post.
That restored a bit of breathing room, a 3-1 lead with just under two minutes left in the second period.
Third Period: A strong half, then hanging on
Outside of a scary chance conceded early on, the Islanders spent the first half of the third period playing almost perfectly. They kept shots away and burned time with good neutral zone defense and by keeping the puck in the Canes zone.
Were they lured to sleep by their own successful play? Because all of a sudden they had two breakdowns. On the first, they were soft defending the forecheck, Seth Jarvis beating Adam Pelech to the puck and feeding the Evil Aho out front, who was uncovered while Dobson and Horvat looked for someone to cover. Aho’s shot beat Sorokin upstairs.
Soon afterward, Derek Stepan, who it turns out is still in the NHL, was sprung for a breakaway up the middle that drew a hook from Aho The Benevolent.
The Hurricanes set up their power play and it was about to look scary, but the Isles managed to kill 36 straight seconds with a scrum in the corner before Villainous Aho joined Heavenly Aho in the penalty box by high-sticking Bo Horvat.
So more 4-on-4 action, though no goals or excitement this time. Nothing on the remnants of the power play either, but you knew that by now. By the time 5-on-5 was restored, there were five minutes let in the game, and the Hurricanes pulled the goalie for a sixth attacker for about the final three.
It was scary, but they only had one super scary chance, a backdoor deflection by Martin Necas that went just high.
So the Islanders prevailed: No one scored on the power play, Sorokin made some big saves, and the Isles had a decent share of competent 5-on-5 play outside of the frightening first.
Now, two days to rest up for Game 6 Friday night on Long Island.