The Islanders know how tough it will be to play against the Hurricanes in the second round of the playoffs because they know how tough opponents find it to play against them.
“I think we’re fairly similar in certain aspects,” goalie Robin Lehner said after Thursday’s practice in East Meadow. “The common denominator between both teams is we’re two hard-working teams. I think we’re pretty similar that way. I’m going to expect a very hard series. It’s going to be hard to suffocate them and they’re going to have a hard time suffocating us.”
The teams will play Game 1 of their first-ever postseason meeting on Friday night at Barclays Center.
The Islanders are well rested after completing a four-game sweep of the Penguins on April 16. The Hurricanes ousted the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals by twice rallying from two-goal deficits for a 4-3 double-overtime win in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Washington.
“There’s going to be a lot of physical play,” Lehner said. “This one is going to be interesting.”
The Hurricanes rely on their speed, their transition game after forcing opponents into mistakes, and getting their offensive-minded defensemen up the ice. The Islanders rely on their defensive structure; Lehner and Thomas Greiss shared the Jennings Trophy as the team allowed an NHL-low 196 goals.
The Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan Division with 103 points, one point behind the Capitals, and now have home-ice advantage for their second straight playoff series after last having it in 1988. This certainly wasn’t what most prognosticators predicted after John Tavares left via free agency for his hometown Maple Leafs.
The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Rod Brind’Amour, are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and won the last two games of their first-round series to stave off elimination.
“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t have them coming out of that series,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “But they have a great team. There’s a lot of people that didn’t have us coming out of our series, either. They fight. They battle. You saw that a couple of times in that series. They were down a few goals and it didn’t really matter. It’s a huge test for us.”
Was Islanders coach Barry Trotz surprised to see the Hurricanes defeat his former team? “No, not really,” he said. “I just think they’ve been a really good team all year. In the second half, they were grinding it out every night and playing the same way and playing for each other. They weren’t going away easy all year and they weren’t going away easy last night.”
Which sounds exactly like what others have said about the Islanders, universally described as a “hard” team to play against.
And a confident one that admittedly loves to prove the doubters wrong.
“We have a belief in the group, getting to this point, what we’ve done and accomplished,” center Brock Nelson said. “But we’re only one step away from being done now. Each round is going to get harder and harder.”
The Islanders also are confident that the change in their home venue won’t affect them.
They played their two first-round home games at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and are returning to Brooklyn for the first time since Feb. 16. The Islanders were 12-6-2 at Barclays Center in the regular season.
“A building is a building,” left wing Matt Martin said. “Our fans are going to fill it up and bring that atmosphere. It doesn’t matter where we play at this time of the year; they’ll be there to support us with the right kind of atmosphere we need.”