New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin fights Carolina Hurricanes left...

New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin fights Carolina Hurricanes left wing Brendan Lemieux at UBS Arena last month. Credit: Brad Penner

The Islanders (39-27-16), third in the Metropolitan Division, are facing the second-place Hurricanes (52-23-7) in the first round, the third time in six seasons the teams have met in the playoffs. The Islanders were swept in the second round in 2019 and lost a six-game, first-round series last season.

Here are five keys to Islanders-Hurricanes III:

1. How much will the regular season matter?

The Hurricanes finished 17 points ahead of the Islanders in the standings and had a goal differential of plus-63, the third best in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Islanders, with a minus-17, were one of only two teams that had a negative goal differential that qualified for the playoffs along with the Capitals. It’s two of the most glaring reasons the Hurricanes are strongly favored in the series. But the Islanders did finish the season on an 8-0-1 run with a plus-13 goal differential. The Hurricanes, though, went 16-4-1 to end the season.

2. Will there be a special teams’ imbalance?

The Hurricanes ranked second in the NHL on the power play at 67-for-249 (26.9%) while the Islanders were 19th at 47-for-231 (20.4%). That included a 5-for-53 (9.4%) stretch over 18 games before the Islanders went 2-for-3 in their season-ending 5-4 win over the Penguins on Wednesday night in a match without playoff implications. In the same, low-intensity game, though, the Islanders' penalty kill was 0-for-2 as they finished the season ranked last in the 32-team NHL at 71.5% (158-for-221). Meanwhile, the Hurricanes’ penalty kill was the best in the league at 86.4% (223-for-258). On paper, special teams are a lopsided advantage for the Hurricanes.

3. Traffic to the net and rebounds

The Hurricanes' season-ending 16-4-1 run coincided with the return of No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen (13-2-0, 1.84 goals-against average, .932 save percentage) from a blood-clotting issue that had kept him sidelined since Nov. 2. The Islanders will have to produce the proverbial “greasy” goals against the Hurricanes rather than pretty ones off the rush. The Hurricanes’ template is to barrage opponents with shots from anywhere on the ice and they were third in the league with 33.3 shots on net per game. Regardless of whether Semyon Varlamov (14-8-4, 2.60, .918), the near-certain Game 1 starter, or Ilya Sorokin (25-19-12, 2.99, .909) is in net, the Islanders have to keep the Hurricanes’ shots to the outside and limit rebounds.

4. The Islanders’ health

The Hurricanes enter the series relatively healthy, with only gritty right wing Jesper Fast dealing with a minor issue. The Islanders have more uncertainty. Top-pair defenseman Noah Dobson missed the final three games with an upper-body injury, though he skated on his own on Wednesday. Dobson led the team with 60 assists and quarterbacks the first power-play unit, so the Islanders simply can’t afford to have him absent, especially with third-pair defenseman Scott Mayfield out for the season after ankle surgery. Plus, third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who’s on the second power-play unit, exited Wednesday’s finale with an undisclosed issue.

5. Getting the best from the best

The Islanders must get consistent production from Bo Horvat (33 goals, 35 assists), Mathew Barzal (23-57), Brock Nelson (34-35) and Kyle Palmieri (30-24), who finished the season on a career-high seven-game point streak (six goals, four assists). Because it’s more than likely the Hurricanes will get what they need from their top producers: Sebastian Aho (36-53), Jake Guentzel (30-47), Seth Jarvis (33-34), Teuvo Teravainen (25-28), Martin Necas (24-29), Andrei Svechnikov (19-53) and defensemen Brady Skjei (13-34), Brent Burns (10-33) and Jaccob Slavin (3-31).

Islanders’ Difference Maker: Patrick Roy

The Islanders' coach as of Jan. 20 has them playing tighter defense and a faster, more engaged brand of hockey. His in-game adjustments will be crucial this series. Plus, he and his staff still need to improve the power play and penalty kill.

Hurricanes’ Difference Maker: Guentzel

After being acquired from the Penguins at the March 8 trade deadline, Guentzel had eight goals and 17 assists in 17 games and gave the Hurricanes the top-line scoring wing they craved.


Andrew Gross

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Islanders in six: The Hurricanes are better on paper and in the standings, but the Islanders finally have solved the chemistry experiment that could lead to one last run for this core group.

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