Islanders-Hurricanes playoff rematch won’t be replay of 2023 series

You may have heard this before, but the 2023-24 Islanders have a pretty similar roster to the 2022-23 Islanders.

But the 2024 first-round playoff series against the Hurricanes, which will likely begin over the weekend in Raleigh, N.C., looks a lot different on paper than the 2023 first-round playoff series against the Hurricanes, which the Islanders lost on Paul Stastny’s overtime winner in Game 6.

Both teams had yet to finish up their regular seasons heading into Tuesday, with Carolina set to play Columbus on Tuesday night and the Islanders to face the Penguins on Wednesday, but they shared the commonality of coming into the playoffs looking much better than they did a year ago.

The Islanders needed a late surge to get into the playoffs last year as well, but their last 10 games featured just a 5-4-1 record.

They needed Pittsburgh to drop a game at home to the terrible Blackhawks to be in position to clinch in Game 82 at home after inexplicably failing to show up two nights prior in a 5-2 loss to the Capitals.

The health of Mat Barzal was also a major question mark heading into that series, with Barzal having not played since Feb. 18 in Boston before returning — clearly at less than full effectiveness — for Game 1.

This time around, the Islanders left the late surge as late as possible, but were much more emphatic in completing it.

They are 7-0-1 in their past eight games, seemingly having solved their season-long issue of holding onto leads just in time to make the playoffs.

Since they took care of business in Game 81, Game 82 on Wednesday won’t have meaning.

And the forward group is in good health — instead, it’s Noah Dobson’s status that hangs over the series after the defenseman missed the past two games with an upper-body injury.

There is also the Patrick Roy factor.

Before last season, Lane Lambert had never been the head coach in a playoff series, and his inexperience showed.

He was unwilling to change a disastrous power play until it was too late in Game 6. Roy, a serial winner as a player, has coached in the NHL playoffs before and won two Memorial Cups with the Quebec Remparts.

There are not many people you’d trust in a big moment more, even with a long hiatus between NHL jobs factored in.

Since Roy took over, he’s overhauled the team’s systems on both ends of the ice to great effect — particularly on the defensive side.

The Islanders are averaging 2.97 goals for and 2.83 against per game since he took over. Under Lambert this season, it was 2.89 for and 3.31 against.

And unlike last year, the Islanders are not riding Ilya Sorokin into the playoffs, but Semyon Varlamov.

Roy has not said who will start Game 1 — and it would not be surprising if both netminders got action in the series — but Varlamov looks likely as he has yet to lose in April, compiling a .945 save percentage over his past five starts.

The team the Islanders face looks different as well.

Goaltending was considered a major weakness for Carolina last season, and Frederik Andersen started just one game in the series — otherwise ceding the net to Antti Raanta.

This time around, Andersen has been splitting time with Pyotr Kochetkov and looking more like his old self, with a 9-0-1 record on a .951 save percentage since returning from injury in March.

The Islanders’ depth at the position still makes it a potential advantage, but perhaps not to the same extent.

The ’Canes also come into this series just as hot as the Isles, with an identical 7-1-0 record over the eight games leading into their season finale.

And just like the Islanders, their forward group looks more formidable this time around thanks to a healthy Andrei Svechnikov — who missed the playoffs last year with a torn ACL — and the deadline acquisition of Jake Guantzel, who has compiled 25 points in 17 games with Carolina.

There is one obvious similarity between the two series, though: Carolina will be favored.

It will be on the Islanders to prove that wrong after failing to do so last time around.

Read the author’s full story here

Get Best News and Web Services here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button