And now they know. It’s off to Carolina for the Islanders.
The Islanders had to wait 24 hours to learn their first-round playoff opponent after ending their season with a 4-2 win over the Canadiens at UBS Arena to clinch one of the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.
That was settled on Thursday night as the Hurricanes clinched first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 6-4 road win over the Panthers, the other wild-card team.
That locked the Islanders into seventh in the conference while the Panthers settled for a first-round series against the NHL-best Bruins, who set a league record this season for most victories and points. That would have been the Islanders’ matchup had the Panthers managed just one point against the Hurricanes.
The NHL playoffs will open on Monday, though the Islanders are not guaranteed to have their Game 1 that night. The first two games against the Hurricanes will be on the road before the Islanders host their first-ever playoff game at UBS Arena, which opened last season when the team missed the postseason for the first time since 2018.
“I think we’re a very scary team to play against in the playoffs,” the Islanders' Hudson Fasching said. “We’re built for the playoffs. We’re a physical team. We’re a four-line team. We’re very sound defensively. We have an unbelievable goaltender [Ilya Sorokin].”
Of course the Islanders, who will resume practicing on Friday after being off on Thursday, professed no preference for their first-round opponent after beating the Canadiens.
“We’ll just prepare for whoever we have to prepare for when we find out,” coach Lane Lambert said.
“It just feels good right now to know that we got in and gave ourselves a chance,” said Brock Nelson, who scored twice against the Canadiens to finish the season with 36 goals, one shy of tying his career high set last season.
“Just proud of the group for never giving up throughout the course of the season. Enjoy it and then wait a few days and get back to work. [The opponent] doesn’t matter to us right now. We were just focused on getting in. That was the goal and we did that.”
The Islanders went 1-3-0 against the Hurricanes, losing the last three matchups after a 6-2 win in Carolina on Oct. 28.
“Let’s get to that in a couple of days,” captain Anders Lee said of potential matchups against either the Hurricanes or Bruins. “Both are phenomenal teams. Both clearly have had great regular seasons. They’re kind of those teams that seem to have it all a little bit. Tough matchups for us. But we believe in this group and what we can do. They’ve got to beat us four and we’ve got to beat them four. That’s why the playoffs are so great.”
The Islanders and Hurricanes last met in the playoffs in 2019 — Barry Trotz’s first season as coach — when Carolina swept the second-round series in four games. That was the last time the Hurricanes advanced to the conference final.