Can the Islanders steal a win in Carolina, one of NHL's toughest buildings?
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Islanders returned to PNC Arena on Tuesday night looking to save their season in a building where they had lost the first two games of their first-round series to the Hurricanes.
But the Islanders have certainly not been the only team to struggle when the Hurricanes play on home ice. The Hurricanes entered Game 5 with a 9-1 home record since the start of last season’s playoffs.
Every team will say they don’t change the way they play home or away.
But the results certainly are different for the Hurricanes in their building.
“They play well here,” Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. “Their fans give them boost just as our fans give us a boost and fans give the home team a boost in any of these series you see around the league. I don’t see a lot of change in their game.”
The Islanders opened the series with two one-goal losses in Carolina, dropping Game 1, 2-1, and losing Game 2, 4-3, in overtime after taking a 3-2 lead in the third period.
So the Islanders at least entered Game 5 with some confidence they could succeed at PNC Arena. In NHL history, 3-1 series deficits have been overcome 31 times.
“It’s always hard,” center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “It’s extremely loud. They have one way to play the game and it’s five one-on-one battles and they compete really hard. The crowd gets behind them and I feel like every shot, even if it’s dangerous or not, they’re happy and they’re yelling.
“But the last game we played there, I thought we played a really good game.”
This is the Islanders’ fourth playoff berth since Lou Lamoriello became president/general manager before the 2018-19 season. Excluding 2020, when all playoff games were played either in Toronto or Edmonton, the Islanders entered Game 5 with a 7-8 road playoff record in that span.
That included an 0-2 record in road elimination games.
The Hurricanes, before their 5-2 win in Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 at UBS Arena, had been much more lopsided in the breakdown of their results. Last season, the Hurricanes beat the Bruins in seven games in the first round with the home team winning each game. That same pattern held true in the Hurricanes’ second-round series against the Rangers before the Rangers won Game 7 at PNC Arena, 6-2.
“A very good crowd and the building is emotional and I think that can give players a lift,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “But I really don’t know how much of an advantage it is one way or another. I know our road record hasn’t been great. But I haven’t thought our road play has been poor. So I don’t think our game changes much home or on the road. There is a little more emotion attached when you play at home.”
“It’s always good to be in front of your home crowd,” Hurricanes left wing Stefan Noesen said. “Ask anybody around the league, home-ice advantage is a real thing. The fans are behind you. They’ve played well here in our building and we’ve played well in their building.”
Home or away, though, the Islanders approached Game 5 as if it were any other game, albeit one that could end their season.
The Islanders entered Game 5 3-3 in playoff elimination games since Lamoriello took over.
“As a group we have confidence in ourselves and it doesn’t matter what building we’re playing in, we’re going in there thinking that we can win the game,” Casey Cizikas said. “That’s the biggest thing with our group is no matter how many times you kick us, we’re going to get back up and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Part of that confidence stems from qualifying for the postseason despite starting 2023 on a 2-8-3 slide that left the Islanders six points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 26.
“That end of the season, it was basically a playoff game every single night down the stretch so we’re comfortable in these spots,” Cizikas said. “It’s not ideal. But we believe in each other, we believe in the guys in this room and we’re going to put our best foot forward.”