RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s not just a cliché. The opening minutes of Islanders-Hurricanes Game 1 on Monday night at PNC Arena really can set a tone for the best-of-seven first-round series.
The wild-card Islanders, likely with their identity-setting trio of Casey Cizikas between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck on the ice first, want to establish their physical brand of forechecking hockey while keeping the Metropolitan Division champion Hurricanes from using their speed and offense-minded defensemen to rack up a one-sided shot advantage.
Plus there’s the question of how well and how quickly Mathew Barzal will integrate back into the Islanders’ lineup — specifically onto Bo Horvat’s top line and the moribund first power-play unit — after being injured for the season’s final 23 games.
“I feel pretty good,” Barzal said after Sunday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “My lungs are surprisingly better than I thought. I’ve been skating for close to two weeks, so my legs are good. It should click. Three lines are still the same. We’re just throwing in a piece.
“Both teams are going to try and set a tone, so it’s just about matching the energy they bring. We know it’s going to be loud in that building. They play fast and they play hard, so we have to match that intensity.”
The first two games are in Raleigh before the series shifts to Long Island for Game 3 on Friday night for the first playoff action at UBS Arena. The Islanders certainly will want to bring some series momentum back into their new home.
That will be no easy task, this being the playoffs and the Hurricanes finishing 20 points ahead of the Islanders in the standings with 113.
The Hurricanes, who went 28-10-3 at home, averaged 34.8 shots per game, third-best in the NHL, and allowed a league-low 26.0 per game. The Islanders were 19th with an average of 30.8 shots taken. They allowed 31.0 shots, 15th in the NHL.
“You implement what you want to do as much as you can and get to your game,” said Anders Lee, who completes Horvat’s trio with Barzal. “When we’re playing our game, those types of things tend to happen. The tone seems to follow us and vice versa. When things aren’t going well, it seems like the other team is dictating it. It’s going to be a long grind. Let’s just get this thing going on the right foot.”
Cizikas’ line will be expected to quickly set that tone, as they did immediately on the forecheck in Wednesday night’s 4-2 win over the Canadiens in the season finale as the Islanders finally secured a playoff berth.
“It’s the first game of the series, so it’s the tone-setter,” said Martin, who was back on the ice on Sunday after being given a “maintenance day” off from Saturday’s practice. “We need to come in and play our game and try to dictate the pace of play and try to frustrate them. It’s going to be a long series. We’ve got to be physical. We’ve got to be hard on them. You want to control as much of the momentum in the series as you can. You like your chances of winning much more if you do that.”
Notes & quotes: Defenseman Alexander Romanov (upper body) will not play in Game 1, but coach Lane Lambert said he would travel with the team . . . Forwards Josh Bailey, Simon Holmstrom and Ross Johnston are expected to be healthy scratches. Bailey, the longest- tenured Islander, previously sat out only two playoff games in his career when an injury sidelined him in 2016.