1. Mathew Barzal’s impact: The Islanders’ elite playmaker missed the final 23 games of the regular season after sustaining what is believed to be a knee injury. But he will be back in the lineup for Monday night’s Game 1 in Carolina. The Islanders need the offensive jolt Barzal can provide both five-on-five and, certainly, on the power play, which has gone just 6-for-55 (10.9%) since he was hurt on Feb. 18. Barzal, seemingly alone, is able to get the puck through the neutral zone for offensive-zone entries and the puck movement has been static without him. Bo Horvat, who centers Barzal on the top line, saw his production fall off in Barzal’s absence with just four goals and eight assists in that span.
2. The Hurricanes’ offensive storm: Part of the key to the Hurricanes’ success is they can overwhelm opponents with their shot production — they were third in the NHL with an average of 34.8 shots per game. The Hurricanes’ defensemen are very active in the offensive zone and in generating opportunities — both Brent Burns and Brady Skjei had 18 goals and Brett Pesce joined those two in reaching 30 points. The Islanders’ difficult task will be limiting rebounds and keeping the Hurricanes from generating high-danger opportunities. The Islanders, with goalie Ilya Sorokin, can handle a high volume of shots against if most of them are from the outside.
3. The goalie matchup: Sorokin (31-22-7, 2.33 goals-against average, .924 save percentage, six shutouts) is a presumptive Vezina Trophy candidate as he enters the playoffs for the first time as the Islanders’ clear-cut No. 1 netminder. He will probably have to steal at least one game as the Hurricanes’ duo of Frederik Andersen (21-11-1, 2.48, .903) and Antti Raanta (19-3-3, 2.23, .910) both finished in the NHL’s top 10 for GAA.