Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) takes a shot against Carolina...

Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) takes a shot against Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov (52) during the third period at UBS Arena in Elmont on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.  Credit: Brad Penner

This is familiar territory for the Islanders. They have once again qualified for the playoffs, the fifth time in six seasons they’ve done so. And they are once again the perceived underdogs in facing the Hurricanes, who eliminated them in six games last season in the first round.

The Islanders are playoff-savvy enough to know none of that past really matters and confident enough after an 8-0-1 finish that vaulted them to third place in the Metropolitan Division to understand they can play with anyone if they play their brand of hard-working hockey.

Game 1 is Saturday at 5 p.m. at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“This is a good team,” said Semyon Varlamov, who went 7-1-0 with 16 goals allowed in starting eight of the last 13 games. It's Varlamov who will likely get the start in net over presumed No. 1 goaltender Ilya Sorokin for the series opener.

“We just needed to believe in each other that we could get it done,” said Varlamov after making 23 saves in Monday night’s 4-1 over the host Devils that clinched third place for the Islanders. “This team definitely deserves to play in the playoffs. Everybody’s working extremely hard.”

Of course, the second-place Hurricanes, who ended on a 16-4-1 run, finished with 111 points to the Islanders’ 94, scored 279 goals to the Islanders’ 246 and allowed 216 goals to the Islanders’ 263. Their power play and penalty kill were ranked second and first in the NHLwhile the Islanders ranked 19th and 32nd (last).

“The PK and the power play are momentum changers,” coach Patrick Roy said after Wednesday night’s 5-4 win over the Penguins in the regular-season finale at UBS Arena. “So special units will be very important. And when I’m saying special units, it’s also the five-on-six, the six-on-five, it’s the faceoffs.

“We’re going to have to be very good against Carolina because it’s a team that puts a lot of pressure on you.”

For the Islanders, it’s just more hurdles. They’ve been clearing them all season.

They went through an 0-4-3 stretch — starting with an overtime loss to the Hurricanes — from Nov. 4-16 that had then-coach Lane Lambert being questioned about his job security. They went through a 1-5-1 skid from Jan. 6-19 that did cost Lambert his job in favor of Roy. An 0-5-1 slump from March 11-21 seemingly ended their playoff hopes and they were still five points out of a playoff spot on March 31 after a 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay.

The Islanders haven’t lost in regulation since.

“The records reset,” Brock Nelson said. “We’re feeling good. We’re confident in the group we have and the way we’ve been playing. We believe that we can compete with anybody. We’ll have to be sharp. Playoffs is a different animal, it gets tight. But it’s the best time of the year so we’ll be fired up for them.”

Four of the six playoff games between the Islanders and Hurricanes last season were determined by one goal. The Islanders lost twice in overtime, including 2-1 in Game 6 at UBS Arena.

This season, the teams split four games, with three games decided by one goal and each team winning once in overtime.

“They play tight in your face,” Nelson said. “Up tempo. You’ve got to be clean. You’ve got to break out extremely well. They’re aggressive. They’ve got defensemen that get up and play up in your face with the wingers and get involved in the offense a lot. We’ll have to be sharp and we’ll have to manage pucks. And special teams will be a big part of it.”

It’s all familiar to the Islanders.

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