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McElhinney latest to step up for Hurricanes during playoff run

Makes 17 saves in relief of injured Mrazek in Game 2 win against Islanders

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial

NEW YORK -- Nothing seems to slow down the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Sunday, the Hurricanes lost starting goalie Petr Mrazek to a lower-body injury in the second period, already trailing by a goal.

No problem.

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

The Hurricanes inserted Curtis McElhinney, a journeyman with two games of NHL playoff experience, neither a start.

The 35-year-old made the save on all 17 shots he faced in 33:33 of relief duty, and the Hurricanes escaped with a 2-1 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"You just grab your helmet and go," said McElhinney, who had not played since April 6 and has had limited practice time since the postseason started. "It's one of those things where the heart rate goes through the roof when you are thrust into it like I was tonight."

Video: CAR@NYI, Gm2: McElhinney makes back-to-back saves

Coach Rod Brind'Amour showed no panic when the switch was made and was not surprised by the result.

"Mac's been great all year, so there was no, 'Oh no, we have to put that guy in,'" Brind'Amour said. "That certainly wasn't it. It was more, 'This is how this night is going, we're dropping like flies, and now our goalie goes down.' … Certainly loved the fact that Mac was there ready to rock and roll."

Game 3 is at Carolina on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). Mrazek's status for that game is unknown.

McElhinney got some help in becoming the Game 2 hero, but he also made his own fortune.

The Islanders struck the cross bar three times in the third period. A potential goal by defenseman Devon Toews late in the second was disallowed because it was scored with distinct kicking motion by Toews.

McElhinney made the saves he was asked to make, and then the Hurricanes turned the game on its head with goals from Warren Foegele and Nino Niederreiter 48 seconds apart in the first 1:05 of the third period.

"The way we came out in the first minute of the third was huge," said McElhinney, who earned his first NHL playoff win.

He is the latest in a long line of postseason heroes for the Hurricanes, players who have expanded their roles or their production in the face of injuries, including those to 20-goal scorer Andrei Svechnikov and forwards Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook, who have missed the first two games of the series after being injured in the first round against the Washington Capitals.

Video: CAR@NYI, Gm2: Mrazek exits with apparent injury

"This is a real resilient group, and we keep getting injuries each game, but someone else is stepping up, whether that's blocking shots or contributing in some way," said Foegele, a rookie who has five goals in nine playoff games after he had 10 in 77 regular-season games. "This group's real resilient, and I'm really proud of the group."

McElhinney might be the most unexpected of all though.

His circuitous journey through North American professional hockey has seen him traded three times and claimed off waivers three more times. Carolina, which claimed him from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 2, 2018, is his seventh NHL team. He has also played for four minor league teams since turning pro for the 2005-06 season.

His previous two NHL playoff games were nothing of note, each coming in mop-up duty. The first was with the Calgary Flames in 2009, and he was playing with a broken finger. The second was with the Maple Leafs last year against the Boston Bruins, a game when he allowed four goals on 23 shots.

Sunday was different. He was one of the differences between winning and losing, and a big part of moving the Hurricanes within two victories of reaching the Eastern Conference Final in their first postseason appearance since 2009.

"Tonight was a fun one to be a part of," he said, smiling.

It meant a lot to his teammates too.

"Both our goalies this year have been unbelievable, and I'm not surprised to see [McElhinney] play like that," Foegele said. "Both goalies have been tremendous, and they've both been able to answer the bell, and it's not easy coming in sitting on the bench so long. Heck of a job by [McElhinney] coming in cold."

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