1. Earn It
This isn't luck. This isn't a fluke. This isn't a hot streak.
The Hurricanes are capital-a actually capital-g good, y'all, and they're going to the Eastern Conference Final.
That this team is making this remarkable run shouldn't and doesn't surprise anyone familiar with this bunch of jerks. The Canes battled, even when the odds were stacked against them. The Canes believed, even when the results suggested they shouldn't.
The Canes earned it together.
"We have a bunch of sayings around here," captain Justin Williams said. "We care about each other, and that's one of the most important things: to care and compete."
"Every day, their approach to what we do, taking pride in how they do things and who they're doing it with," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "They just come to work, man. They earn everything they're getting right now."
The Islanders weren't a bad team. They weren't an unlucky team. Bad, unlucky teams don't sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round. They just ran into the buzz saw that is the Hurricanes. The Islanders didn't have an answer for the Canes' relentless forecheck. They didn't have an answer for the Canes' suffocating defense. They didn't have an answer for the play of either Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney.
It just didn't matter. The Hurricanes weren't going away, and they aren't going away.
"We're not making a ceiling for ourselves," Williams said. "We're not tapping out at making playoffs or winning a round or winning two rounds. We're going to see how good we can be."
A PNC Arena record hockey crowd of 19,495, a crew that included Carolina Panthers head coach and siren sounder extraordinaire Ron Rivera, saw the Hurricanes complete the sweep. They waved their towels. They pushed the limits of how loud the building could get. They yelled and screamed and cheered and made some noise as they saw their team win its sixth consecutive playoff game and advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
"It's awesome for this fanbase. They've been waiting 10 years," Sebastian Aho said. "Now, I feel like they enjoy it even more, and so do we. We're not done here yet."
"Our goal wasn't to be one of the four teams remaining. Our goal was to keep playing and be the best team," Brind'Amour said. "I don't think too many people expected us to be here, but we did. I know that's easy to say now because we're here, but that's the truth. … This is great and we're super excited, but there's more."
2. Answering Back
The Hurricanes knew the Islanders would be a hungry team out of the gate, and they were just that. They were playing for their lives, a desperate group that was the better team for the first 20 minutes of the game.
"I didn't like our first period," Brind'Amour said. "We knew they were going to come, and they did."
The Islanders struck first by taking advantage of the game's first power play. Mathew Barzal banged in a rebound at the 2:30 mark of the first period to give his team an early lead.
"They were really good in the first period, I feel like," Aho said. "They pushed really hard and got the [first] goal."
"We fought through it," Aho said. "We pushed back."
Just as the Islanders were able to strike on the power play, so too were the Hurricanes able to score on their first man advantage of the game.
Bear in mind, too, that this Canes power play had not converted since Game 3 of the First Round and were wallowing in a 0-for-23 stretch since their last power-play marker.
Aho got credit for the tally, as he attempted to stuff the puck in along the far side of the net, but it was Adam Pelech who swiped the puck in past his own goaltender to even the score.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Aho knots the score with PPG
"A lucky break, but sometimes that's what you need on the power play," Williams said. "We answered right back, and I thought that was a very pivotal time in the game, certainly for our power play to get one."
"I think the turning point for me was we actually responded right away after giving up the first one," Brind'Amour said.
3. A Good 66 Seconds of Hockey
The Hurricanes had a good 48 seconds of hockey that propelled them to victory in the third period of Game 2.
In Game 4, the Hurricanes had a good 66 seconds of hockey in the second period that gave them a decided advantage in a decisive game.
"I felt like we had a good push, and that was enough," Brind'Amour said.
Teuvo Teravainen found a soft spot in the Islanders' defensive zone coverage, while Aho shoved Pelech off the puck behind his own net. Aho found Warren Foegele fresh off the bench, and Foegele spotted Teravainen wide open for the go-ahead goal.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Teravainen pots feed from Foegele
As that goal was being announced over the public address system, the Canes came roaring back in the offensive zone. Jordan Martinook laid a puck off for Brett Pesce, who rifled a one-timer. The puck hit Lehner, who froze, thinking he had control of it, but it dropped to the ice, and Greg McKegg was there to smack the puck in.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: McKegg beats Lehner with tap-in tally
"It was a little while since I had been on the scoresheet, so it was nice pop one in," said McKegg, who had a total of one playoff game to his name coming into this postseason.
4. Putting it Away
Williams stretched the Canes' lead to three goals before the second period was over. Jordan Staal sauced a centering feed to Williams in the slot, and Mr. Game 4-plus-3 backhanded the puck out of midair and past Thomas Greiss, who replaced Lehner in net after McKegg's insurance tally.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Williams bats pass out of air for goal
"To get a couple extra goals and sit with that lead going into the third felt great," McElhinney said.
"Imposing your will on a team and giving them doubt is the key to winning a series," Williams said. "We pushed, we pushed and we pushed. We got a couple of goals and a good lead. That's how you win a series. You tell the team it's too hard for them, and it was."
The Hurricanes maintained that 4-1 lead for much of the third period while the Islanders emptied the tank and left everything they had on the ice. Then, it was Andrei Svechnikov's turn to make some magic happen after making his return to the lineup in Game 3. Justin Faulk skated the puck through the neutral zone and over the blue line before sliding it over to Svechnikov, who was all alone. The Canes' rookie then snapped a quick shot blocker side on Greiss.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Svechnikov tacks on insurance goal
"This series, we never felt like we could get to our game for any length of time, but there were segments," Brind'Amour said. "We were able to capitalize on those time frames. Really proud of this group."
5. Rest is a Weapon
The Hurricanes jumped straight into the Second Round after a dramatic, double overtime Game 7 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions in round one.
There wasn't much time to think or rest or prepare; they just had to do. They did so in short order, becoming the first team to secure its spot as one of the final four left standing. Now, the Canes have some well-deserved time off. They'll step away from the rink on Saturday and Sunday before reconvening on the ice Monday.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Canes, Isles exchange handshakes
"It's important to get your rest, very important. It's a weapon this time of year. We didn't want to go back to New York, that's for sure," Williams said. "I could certainly use a few days. I know a lot of guys in this room could, as well."
"At this point in the playoffs, everybody is a little beat up," McElhinney said. "A couple extra days will go a long way for everyone."
"We need a break, our group," Brind'Amour said. "I'm just so proud of these guys, I can't even tell you. They've just grinded. It wasn't pretty. I think a break is what they need, almost mentally."
And, breathe. The Hurricanes have earned a little rest, and they now await either the Boston Bruins or the Columbus Blue Jackets (series tied 2-2) in the Eastern Conference Final.
"I don't want to talk about that," Williams joked when asked about the next potential opponent. "Let me enjoy this, would you?"
Go enjoy it!