The scene for the Hurricanes at Capital One Arena late Wednesday night can only be described as elation, as the double overtime hero Brock McGinn threw his hands in the air and jumped up and down after deflecting in the game-winner, as the players leapt over the bench and sprinted toward the celebration pile along the near glass in the far zone, as Petr Mrazek dove headfirst, sliding on his belly into the fracas.
"Jubilation. Excitement. Relief that it was over," Justin Williams said after the game. "It's such an indescribable feeling when you celebrate with the guys who you worked your tail off with for months after months after months. To see that one go in and go our way was awesome."
2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
That joy can only be short-lived, though. Just a day separates the Hurricanes from a thrilling and emotional victory on the road from the first game of the Second Round against a team that's been sitting, waiting.
"The biggest challenge is going to be switching gears," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said on Thursday. "We've been going real hard here for a couple of weeks, all that emotion. To kind of throw that away and then focus on a whole new opponent with a different style, that will be the biggest challenge."
But if there is something this Hurricanes team has shown all season, it's that they can rise to meet the challenge and overcome it.
"We just don't give up, and we keep playing hard. That's something that I knew right from the get-go. I think we've shown that all year," Brind'Amour said. "It's nice that I think other people are now taking note of what we have. We have a special group."
By the Numbers
2018-19 Regular Season Stats
|46-29-7 ||Record ||48-27-7 |
|99 ||Points ||103 |
|2.96 ||Goals for per game ||2.72 |
|2.70 ||Goals against per game ||2.33 |
|17.8% ||Power Play ||14.5% |
|81.6% ||Penalty Kill ||79.9% |
|34.4 ||Shots for per game ||28.8 |
|28.6 ||Shots against per game ||30.9 |
|49% ||Faceoffs ||47.4% |
|CAROLINA || ||NY ISLANDERS |
2019 Playoff Stats
|4-3 ||Record ||4-0 |
|3.00 ||Goals for per game ||3.50 |
|2.86 ||Goals against per game ||1.50 |
|12% ||Power Play ||15.4% |
|75% ||Penalty Kill ||90.9% |
|33.4 ||Shots for per game ||32.3 |
|27.1 ||Shots against per game ||34 |
|51.1% ||Faceoffs ||51.7% |
|CAROLINA || ||NY ISLANDERS |
Revisiting the Season Series
As Metropolitan Division foes, the Hurricanes and Islanders met four times in the 2018-19 regular season. The Hurricanes finished 1-2-1 in the season series, which included two meetings at PNC Arena in October and concluded in early January.
"Obviously they're a good team. You don't get to this point of the season and not be a good team," Brind'Amour said. "The way they do it is much different than what Washington does. It will be a huge challenge."
Oct. 4: Islanders 2, Hurricanes 1 (OT)
The Hurricanes liked pretty much everything about Opening Night except for the final score. Jordan Staal tied the game at one late in regulation to force extra hockey, but Josh Bailey netted the game-winner in 3-on-3 overtime, forcing the Canes to settle for a point in the 2018-19 season premiere.
"I thought it was a good game by our guys. I thought we did exactly what we wanted to do. Unfortunately, we didn't score [enough]," Brind'Amour said after the game. "Our goalie played great when he had to. Petr kept us in it. I thought we kept going, going, going. … We can build on that. If we play that way every night, we'll have a good chance."
Video: CAR Recap: Staal scores, but Canes suffer OT loss
Oct. 28: Islanders 2, Hurricanes 1
Just over three weeks after Opening Night, the Canes again suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Islanders, this time in regulation. The games shared a number of similar characteristics, too. The Islanders got a lead and protected it. Thomas Greiss was a brick wall, stopping 38 of 39 shots. The Canes generated some scoring chances but weren't able to convert just enough.
"I felt like, right from the start, we were just a tad off maybe," Brind'Amour said. "When we were good, we still couldn't find the net. A couple breakdowns. Frustrating is a good word for it."
Video: CAR Recap: Aho stretches point streak to 11 in loss
Nov. 24: Islanders 4, Hurricanes 1
Way more often than not, the Hurricanes were pleased with at least their effort and work ethic in the regular season. The third meeting between these two divisional opponents was not one of those nights. The Islanders scored on their first two shots of the game to take a 2-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game, and once they got that lead, they locked it down and limited the Canes to just 27 shots on Greiss.
"It wasn't there today. We weren't ready to show up," Lucas Wallmark said. "We win together, and we lose together. … We have to be better than that."
"We just didn't come ready to go from the get-go. We knew what they were going to do. We talked about it and had a game plan, but from the first shift on, we didn't do it at all," Brind'Amour said. "It's a tough one because we wanted to keep moving forward, but, man, I've never seen us play that bad. That was really poor, to a man. Each guy - we didn't come ready to go, and we got what we deserved."
Video: CAR Recap: Canes' winning streak snapped in 4-1 loss
Jan. 8: Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
The Hurricanes finally solved the Islanders in the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the two teams, and it came at a time when the Canes were beginning to heat up in the second half of the season.
With the score tied 2-2 in the third, the Canes killed off a hooking minor assessed to Williams. Their captain then exited to the box and 15 seconds later, roofed a backhand shot to put the Canes ahead, 3-2.
Jaccob Slavin notched a power-play goal (and his 100th career point) with 67 seconds remaining in regulation to stretch the Canes' lead to two. It seemed like a dagger of a goal, though Brock Nelson scored his second goal of the game with 59 seconds left to add some drama to the game's final minute. The Canes held on, though, to win their fifth game in a row.
"We're finding ways to win games. That's what good teams do," Williams said. "Hopefully we'll wind it up and be better next game."
Video: Hurricanes edge Islanders for fifth straight win
Why the Hurricanes Pose a Challenge for the Islanders
There's no doubt that the First Round took a toll on the Hurricanes. But, at the same time, the Canes are rolling right into the next series on the high of a double overtime victory in Game 7.
It doesn't get much sweeter than that.
"What makes the Stanley Cup so special is that it is such a grind," Brind'Amour said. "To win that - people who have won understand what you have to go through to win. Every game, emotionally, mentally and physically, does take a toll."
This team wasn't satisfied with simply qualifying for the playoffs. This team won't remain satisfied with advancing a round in the playoffs.
"Just keep pushing forward. You see how good you can be. You never know until you go out there and give it a go. We put everything we had into this year, and we still have more to give."
Leadership from Brind'Amour and Williams - two guys who have had success in the playoffs and know what kind of compete level it takes in order to be successful - was critical to the Hurricanes' success, not only in the First Round but throughout the regular season.
It's going to be equally important moving forward.
"He comes in, and he's such an unbelievable motivator. After he talks in pregame, you just want to run through a wall, and you realize you've got an hour-and-a-half before the game," Williams said of his coach and former teammate. "He's done everything right, let us do our thing and lead us along the way. That's the consummate leader of our team."
Belief is a powerful thing, and the Hurricanes believe.
They believed when they were all but down and out in the standings on New Year's Eve. They believed when they drew the defending Stanley Cup champions in the First Round. They believed when they were pushed to the brink of elimination in a 6-0 letdown in Game 5. They believed even when they fell behind in Games 6 and 7.
"We trust ourselves," Sebastian Aho said after Game 7. "We knew were going to turn this [around]. Just a great team effort."
Through that belief and through their results, the team has earned some confidence heading into the Second Round. They know they can match up well against any team, and they know they can beat any team.
The Hurricanes expect to win. Belief is a powerful thing.
"I think the guys have been through a lot this year. Whatever gets thrown their way, they feel pretty confident that we've been through this before or a similar situation," Brind'Amour said. "I guess one way to look at it is it's experience. They've experienced, even though they're a young team, we've gone through a lot this year. We hope to go through a lot more."
Why the Islanders Pose a Challenge for the Hurricanes
One glance at the season series makes evident what the Islanders' strengths are: a stingy defensive game and strong goaltending.
The Isles paced the league with a 2.33 goals against per game average in the regular season, and in the First Round of the playoffs, they limited the dangerous Penguins' offense to just six goals in four games.
"They're patient. Their defending is the priority. They've got some high-end talent," Brind'Amour said. "The way I've appreciated watching them all year is they're patient to play a defensive game, and when you crack is when they go. They actually score a ton of goals off the rush because they have talent. That's, I think, an underrated aspect of that team."
Rested and Ready
Rest is a weapon, and the Islanders have rest firmly on their side. New York completed the sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 16, so it will have been a full 10 days in between games by the time the puck drops in round two.
"I know they're probably sitting there licking their chops," Brind'Amour said. "I know we all would be with the way this series went. Seven games, overtime, the grind that this series was, the injuries that have racked up. They've been sitting there for 10 days."
Experience Behind the Bench
A driving force in the Islanders' success this season comes from behind the bench with a coaching staff that boasts an impressive pedigree. Barry Trotz guided the Washington Capitals to two consecutive Presidents' Trophies before leading the team to its first Stanley Cup in 2017-18. He brought with him to New York assistant coach Lane Lambert and director of goaltending Mitch Korn, who turned the tandem of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss into William Jennings Trophy-winning netminders.
The Bottom Line
The Hurricanes are just getting started in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The defending champions have been dethroned. Now, it's on to Brooklyn.
"We became relevant again this year. This is just another step," Williams said. "It's wide open for us. It's wide open for every team. There's eight left, and we're going to keep pushing to see how good we can be."