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Second Round

Hurricanes raising profile with playoff run

Will sweep second round, advance to first conference final since 2009 if they defeat Islanders in Game 4

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes began this season with a simple goal.

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, the Hurricanes wanted to end that drought. But it was about more than that.

"It's about getting relevant is kind of how I phrased it Day One," coach Rod Brind'Amour said Thursday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

Heading into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), Carolina is on the verge of taking a significant step toward relevancy. Leading the best-of-7 series 3-0, the Hurricanes are a win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Final for the fourth time in their history and first since 2009, the last time they qualified for the playoffs.

"No one was talking about our team because we hadn't done anything," Brind'Amour said. "You have to make a noise and I think we're still (getting) there. Whatever happens this year, we need to keep moving forward and pushing. It's a goal for our organization to be back to where we had it at one time and, obviously, we're still reaching to get to there."

In his first season as coach, Brind'Amour will be the first to point out that the Hurricanes haven't accomplished anything yet and they know better than to look past the Islanders. But Brind'Amour remembers the glory days because he was part of them.

He played for the 2002 Carolina team that reached the Stanley Cup Final and was captain of the team that won the Cup in 2006 and reached the conference final again in 2009. Getting back to the NHL final four and playing in that spotlight would go a long way toward reestablishing the franchise.

"It's obviously a cool feeling," defenseman Brett Pesce said. "We've faced a lot of adversity to get here. We're still a full win away, so we're not taking anything lightly."

The Hurricanes repeated all the clichés about how the fourth win is the hardest to get and expecting the Islanders to play their best game because that's what all teams do in their situation. But they appreciate the position they're in because they know how far they've come to get here.

On Dec. 29, Carolina was 15-17-5 and 10 points out of a playoff spot. The Hurricanes went 31-12-2 over the remainder of the season to claim the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Video: PNC Arena was electric in the Hurricanes Game 3 win

Then they fell behind 2-0 and 3-2 in the first round against the Washington Capitals and came back to win that series with a 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 7.

With victories in the first three games against the Islanders, they've extended their playoff winning streak to five, but know they can't afford to let up.

"That's something I'm not worried about with us because we've been in this mindset for a long time," forward Jordan Martinook said.

"Everybody knows our type of game and how we play, and I think we still kind of relish that we're, I guess, the underdogs. So we want to play the same way."

That's been the Hurricanes' approach since a players' meeting in late December they say was the turning point in their season. They had gone 4-9-2 from Nov. 24 to Dec. 29. Their struggles to score goals (2.43 per game in their first 37 games) caused them to stray from their defensive structure and the hard-working identity they tried to establish from the start of training camp.

In that meeting, the Hurricanes recommitted to their work ethic and the details in their play away from the puck, recognizing that if they took care of that, they'd eventually find a way to score enough goals to win. They averaged 3.4 goals per game over the remainder of the regular season and are averaging 2.90 goals per game in the playoffs while allowing 2.30 per game.

"We didn't really have much of an identity at the start and over the years," center Jordan Staal said. "I think [Brind'Amour has] demanded from the start that our identity has got to be our work ethic and all else kind of falls to the side. We'll start with that first. We're a team that doesn't want to get outworked and we want to be that team every night and with the skill that we do have, and all that other stuff helps us find ways to win games."

The Hurricanes have found a way to win three games so far against the Islanders despite a slew of injuries including to goalie Petr Mrazek, who is expected to miss his second straight game Friday. If they win one more, they'll advance to face either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Boston Bruins in the conference final.

That would be pretty relevant.

"I think everybody in this room believed we could come out of it and we had a players' meeting and ever since then everybody's been on board," Martinook said. "Not saying that anybody wasn't on board the whole year, but everybody knew that we could be a good team and we just kind of ran with it."

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