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Islanders might have to unleash some offense to beat Hurricanes

The Islanders are proven winners with a strong defense, but getting some goals would help beat the pesky Hurricanes

The Islanders' Casey Cizikas could not get the

The Islanders' Casey Cizikas could not get the puck past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek in the 2nd period during Game 1 of round 2 in the NHL playoffs at Barclays Center on Friday, April 26, 2019, in Brooklyn. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The wider world — well, at least the NHL and NBC — surely would have preferred a second-round series featuring Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Instead, the world has the Islanders and Hurricanes, who ended the seasons of Crosby’s Penguins and Ovechkin’s Capitals.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. They earned it as two squads that might have limited star power but come armed with devilish defensive schemes and an underdog’s mentality.

What now, though? Someone has to win this series, and after practice on Saturday the Islanders made it clear that someone likely will have to do it the way the Hurricanes did in Game 1.

“They play defensive, we play defensive,” said Jordan Eberle, who saw his goal-a-game playoff run come to an end with the Hurricanes’ 1-0 overtime victory.

“That’s how the games will go: 0-0 with an overtime goal. That’s just how the games have to be won or lost.”

Perhaps, but it says here that for the Islanders to advance they must tap into an offensive reservoir amid their array of talented if not Crosby/Ovechkin-level scorers.

Winning with defense has been their hallmark under Barry Trotz, and they have allowed only one goal in each of the past four games. So a radical makeover would be folly.

But to survive this round and even more so to win the 12 more games required to earn the Stanley Cup, scoring will be required from all available sources.

This is a team whose most dynamic player, Mathew Barzal, is a playmaker more than a goal-scorer, and whose leading regular-season goal scorer, Anders Lee, finished in an 11-way tie for 48th in the NHL with 28.

The first two lines carried the load in the first round, which is normal for most teams. But the much-heralded fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck has produced no goals and no assists in five games.

They have done their job on defense well, especially against Crosby, but they also have been the Islanders' secret weapon on offense, one that would be a big help right about now.

“Just keep at it, and you would imagine that sooner or later it will go in the net,” Martin said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you it isn’t frustrating, because you want pucks to go in the net.

“I think we’ve played pretty well over five games even though if you look at the stats line it’s not so great. It’s about staying the course and looking at the big picture.”

That picture will remain relatively rosy if the Islanders rebound on Sunday. But six more games like Game 1 will not be good for anyone’s nervous system.

(Speaking of a potential Game 7, the NHL still might seek to move it from May 8 to 9 to give the teams a day of rest rather than play back-to-back. The Liberty is to host the Chinese National Team at Barclays Center that night.)

The Islanders face big free agent decisions this offseason, with three of their top four regular-season goal scorers — Lee, Brock Nelson, Eberle — set to be free agents. Even if all three return, the Islanders figure to be in the market for snipers.

Back to the present: Can they continue to win the way they have been, or do they need more offense?

The Islanders made their position clear, no matter how many times I asked them annoying questions about it.

“We have some skill here; we can score,” Eberle said. “But I think the identity of our team is the way we play defensively. We’ve won and lost that way.”

Said Martin, “We have an identity as a team. It led us to 103 points this year. It led us to a first-round sweep. We’re not changing anything now. As long as we stick to our guns, we’ll be all right . . . We’re not worried about scoring the most goals. We’re worried about winning the most games.”

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