Key for Islanders vs. Hurricanes Game 6: Belief in themselves
The Islanders believe they are just as good a team as the Hurricanes, perhaps even a better one. They again have a chance to prove that on the ice as they again try to keep their season alive in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup first-round series on Friday night at UBS Arena.
They won Tuesday night’s Game 5, 3-2, in Carolina to come within three games to two in the series.
“It’s a big opportunity and I feel like we’re ready to take it,” defenseman Sebastian Aho said after the Islanders practiced on Thursday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “We like where our game is at the moment. We’re doing a lot of good things and we’ve tweaked things we’ve had a little bit of issues with.
“It wouldn’t make any sense if we didn’t believe in ourselves. I believe we’re just as good if not better.”
The Hurricanes finished first in the Metropolitan Division with 113 points — 20 more than the wild-card Islanders — and won three of the teams’ four regular-season meetings.
But the Islanders, statistically speaking, have been the better team skating five-on-five as they’ve outscored the Hurricanes 12-8.
Per Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders’ expected goals-for percentage is 55.56 while the Hurricanes is 44.44 skating five-on-five and the Islanders have generated 56 high-danger scoring chances to the Hurricanes’ 46.
“We have an opportunity to extend this series and continue to put ourselves at a better spot,” captain Anders Lee said. “It’s really a one-game thing right now, that mentality of our backs are against the wall so we’ve got to give it everything we have and I thought we did a phenomenal job of doing that the other night. We’ve got to bring that same level, if not have to raise it.
“We go into this understanding that if we play our best hockey and do the things we need to do that we have a really great chance of success. It doesn’t matter how you measure up coming into the series. It’s all game by game and who wins the little things.”
But what has put the Islanders on the brink of elimination and the Hurricanes on the brink of advancing as been the Hurricanes’ decided edge in special teams.
The Hurricanes are 5-for-23 on the power play (21.7%) while the Islanders are 1-for-15 (6.7%), going 1-for-5 as they split Games 3 and 4 at UBS Arena with the Hurricanes.
The Islanders did pre-practice power-play work on Thursday out of sight from the media. So personnel or alignment changes could be coming, though coach Lane Lambert has been hesitant to alter his top unit of defenseman Noah Dobson with Lee, Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Bo Horvat.
Besides, Lee said any confidence the power-play builds must come from in-game success, not a solid practice.
Overall, though, Horvat said the Islanders can build off their Game 5 win.
“I think we simplified our game a little bit more, we weren’t trying to overcomplicate things,” Horvat said. “We played fast. We hounded. The penalty kill was better last game [4-for-4].”
Notes & quotes: Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told the media in Raleigh, North Carolina on Thursday there was a “chance” goalie Frederik Anderson could start Game 6 after Antti Raanta played the first five games. Andersen manned his own crease at practice while Raanta shared a net with Pyotr Kochetkov. “I don’t think it changes for us regardless of who they play,” Lambert said. “We have to play our game and do things offensively that we need to do in order to give ourselves the best chance to score.”