The Carolina Hurricanes completed a sweep of the New York Islanders with a 5-2 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at PNC Arena on Friday.
The series win marked the first sweep of a best-of-7 series in Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers history, and the fourth time the Hurricanes have reached the Eastern Conference Final (2002, 2006, 2009).
[RELATED: Complete Hurricanes vs. Islanders series coverage]
Carolina, which defeated the Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round, will face either the Boston Bruins or the Columbus Blue Jackets in the conference final. The Bruins and Blue Jackets are tied 2-2 with Game 5 at TD Garden on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Here are 5 reasons the Hurricanes advanced:
1. Stingy defense
Carolina allowed five goals in the series, two at even strength. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin averaged 25:56 in the series, paired with Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce (plus-six rating) and Justin Faulk (plus-five) anchored the second pair.
"They've been phenomenal," said goalie Curtis McElhinney, who earned three wins in the series in place of the injured Petr Mrazek. "Against Washington, we gave up a few more grade-A [shots] than we would have liked. In this series, we've done a really good job of limiting those chances."
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour has praised his defense corps all season.
"That's the strength of our group," Brind'Amour said. "When they're on, regardless of how we're playing up front, I feel like we have a chance every night."
Video: Hurricanes advance to ECF with sweep of Islanders
2. Going fourth
With injuries to forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Micheal Ferland and Saku Maenalanen, Carolina needed a fourth line to counter New York's bottom-six forwards, including the fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
The Hurricanes answered with Jordan Martinook, Greg McKegg and Patrick Brown. In Game 3, the line generated four shots and had a consistent presence on the forecheck, and McKegg scored the game-winner in Game 4.
"In Game 3, we put that line together and they went toe-to-toe with [the Islanders fourth line] and actually did really well," Brind'Amour said. "We had to have everybody contributing. I think they were able to capitalize more."
3. Golden in goal
During the regular season, Mrazek (40 starts) and McElhinney (33) shared the workload, and it paid off against the Islanders.
Mrazek had started all of Carolina's playoff games until he sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Game 2 on April 28. The Hurricanes turned to McElhinney, who had not played since the regular-season finale April 6. He made 17 saves to help Carolina rally for a 2-1 win. In Game 3, he became the oldest NHL goalie to make his first playoff start, making 28 saves in a 5-2 win before helping the Hurricanes complete the sweep with 26 saves in Game 4.
Through two rounds of the playoffs, Mrazek is 5-3 with a 2.22 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts. McElhinney is 3-0 with a 1.56 GAA and .947 save percentage.
Video: McElhinney earns first career playoff series win
4. Hello, Aho
Center Sebastian Aho, who led Carolina in scoring during the regular season with 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) made game-changing plays on the forecheck in Games 3 and 4.
With the game tied 2-2 in the third period of Game 3, he intercepted Islanders goalie Robin Lehner's clearing attempt and passed to forward Justin Williams in the slot for the go-ahead goal.
In Game 4, Aho stripped the puck from New York defenseman Adam Pelech behind the net and fed forward Warren Foegele, who set up forward Teuvo Teravainen for a 2-1 lead in the second period. The goal stood as the game-winner.
5. Williams' will to win
In his first season as Hurricanes captain, Williams' message has been unmistakable and constant: He expects the Hurricanes to succeed. With goals in each of the final two games of the series, his play is speaking as clearly as his words.
"We're not making a ceiling for ourselves," he said. "We're not tapping out at making the playoffs or winning a round or winning two rounds. We're going to see how good we can be. I don't know how good we can be, but we're working our way into the conversation here."
Williams scored on the backhand in Game 4 to put the Hurricanes up 4-1.
"Would I have believed you if you said we would have swept [the series]? Absolutely not," the 37-year-old forward said. "But I would have believed you if you said we would beat them. That's the main goal, whether it takes four games or seven."
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Williams bats pass out of air for goal