When Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek left midway through Sunday’s game at Barclays Center, most Islanders fans likely were unfamiliar with backup Curtis McElhinney and thus optimistic about how things would unfold from there.
But on the Islanders bench, forward Matt Martin figured McElhinney would be formidable and told teammates they had best create traffic in front of McElhinney, because he would otherwise be difficult to beat.
Martin, who played with McElhinney in Toronto for the two seasons prior to this one, turned out to be right.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old entered the game with the 'Canes trailing 1-0, and he left with teammates congratulating him and Carolina winning, 2-1, to take a 2-0 lead in the second-round playoff series.
Why the confidence in a guy who has played for seven NHL teams over 11 seasons, and whose 33 starts this regular season were a career high?
“I remember when I was [with the Maple Leafs], Freddie Andersen got hurt in a pretty important game against Pittsburgh at the end of the season and he stonewalled them,” Martin said, recalling a 5-3 victory in April 2017. “He’s a veteran guy. He knows his job. He’s big. He’s just a really solid goaltender . . . They have two pretty good options.
“I think he’s capable of being a starter in this league, to be honest. He’s composed. He’s a big body [6-2, 203 pounds]. He moves well. He’s not going to get overwhelmed by the situation. I knew as soon as he went in that he’d be on the top of his game. He’s a solid goaltender. They’re lucky to have him.
“He’s kind of bounced around a lot with younger goalies kind of taking his job. But he deserves a place in this league, and in my opinion, he’s a really solid goaltender and as you saw, he comes in and made some saves right away that some other guys might not be able to make.
“So if he’s in the net the next game [in Raleigh on Wednesday], it’s not going to get any easier. He’s just as solid as anyone else.”