3 keys to the NY Islanders Upsetting the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 1

Oct 28, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31)
Oct 28, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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The NY Islanders went 1-3 against the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2022-23 season, but Rod Brind'Amour's Canes haven't seen these Islanders before - and neither have we.

The teams played four unique games this regular season, with the Islanders playing one of their better games of the season in their first matchup - Josh Bailey's 1000th game - on Oct. 28. That was followed by the Hurricanes putting on a defensive clinic at UBS Arena in December and then handling the Islanders again on home ice in January at one of the team's lowest points of the season.

In their final match-up of the year, Brind'Amour questioned which team was and should've been playing more desperately in a game his Canes won 2-1 on a third-period goal. But this series will look and should feel different than the regular season.

Apr 2, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) stops the
Apr 2, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) stops the / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders will have a forward group against Carolina that includes Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat for the first time since Feb 18 and also includes deadline acquisition Pierre Engvall, who has thrived on a line with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri. Being able to roll out four lines has always been the team's calling card come playoff time, and they'll be able to do it with no real discernable hole. After a season of patchwork lines, AHL call-ups, and rotating healthy scratches, the lines are where they should be, just in time for the postseason.

Here are 3 ways the Islanders can pull off a first round upset

Ilya Sorokin finds a next level

Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders
Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

In every series preview you'll read, Carolina is given the edge in just about every category - except one - goaltending. For the first time in his career, Ilya Sorokin enters the postseason as the team's No. 1 goaltender. Back in 2021, he was thrown into the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and won all four games in the series as the Isles advanced in six games.

He allowed four goals on 39 shots in Game 1 the next series against the Boston Bruins before Barry Trotz went back to Semyon Varlamov. This time around, Sorokin is expected to carry the load throughout the playoffs, the same way he did during the regular season when he started 60 games, had a .924 save percentage, and led the league with six shutouts.

“Obviously, I think that we think the world of our goaltenders,” Cal Clutterbuck said in the New York Post. “I’m not gonna speak comparatively because I see Raanta and Freddy Andersen maybe once or twice a year, so I have no comment on their comparison. [But] I know that we’ve got two of the best.”

The 27-year-old Sorokin has plenty of playoff experience to lean on, though most of occurred in the KHL. Playing for CSKA Moscow, he was named the KHL Playoff MVP, going 16-4 with a stellar 1.19 GAA and five shutouts through the postseason.

It's unlikely that Sorokin can replicate those numbers, but he'll have to steal a game or two for the Islanders to withstand the pressure from a Hurricanes team that averaged nearly 35 shots a game, third most in the NHL. For the Canes, it's possible, if not likely that we see both Raanta and Andersen in the series, but for the Islanders, there's a feeling they'll go as far as Sorokin can carry them, as was the case for much of the regular season.

Mathew Barzal ignites the power play

Seattle Kraken v New York Islanders
Seattle Kraken v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The loss of Mathew Barzal made a bad power play worse as the Islanders went just 6-for-55 (10.9%) with the man advantage in the final 23 games of the regular season after Barzal went down with a lower-body injury in Boston on Feb. 18.

When Bo Horvat was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks, it was expected to kickstart the Islanders' special teams. Horvat plays the bumper position on the power play, but success from there is predicated on the ability of your teammates to move the puck in a manner that allows you to create space and be fed the puck in a position to score a goal. Barzal can do that for Horvat, as evident by the six games they played together before the injury.

"He's got a tremendous amount of skill and his speed and ability to make plays," said Horvat of Barza's return. "It adds another dimension to our group. We're happy to have him back."

The first PP unit is will consist of Barzal and Horvat, with Anders Lee providing a net presence and the team's leading scorer Brock Nelson as the other forward. Noah Dobson is expected to quarterback that unit. The second PP unit has Sebastian Aho as the lone defenseman with Pierre Engvall, Kyle Palmieri, JG Pageau and Zach Parise.

The Islanders were 0-for-18 this season on the power play against Carolina, a team that finished 2nd overall on the penalty kill (84.4%). Playoff series are often decided on special teams with goals hard to come by at even strength. They'll come a time in this series when a power play goal can swing momentum. Barzal has to be at the forefront of making that happen when it happens.

Bottom pair D hold their own

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders
Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

What worries you in a playoff series is the unknown, and you just aren't sure of what to expect from some members of the Islanders defense. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech will be pared together and average well over 20 minutes a night with Lane Lambert matching them up against the Canes' top line as much as possible. But on the road, without the last change, the other pairings will be tested and have to avoid costly turnovers and poor decisions in their own zone.

Scott Mayfield is the type of player that raises his game in the postseason, where you can get away with a more physical level of play, but the other three defensemen have been prone to defensive lapses throughout the regular season that will be exploited by Carolina in this series if they continue.

As talented as Noah Dobson is offensively, his defensive game did not take a step forward in 2022-23, and he's going to be paired with rookie Samuel Bolduc who will stick in the Islanders lineup for as long as Alexander Romanov remains out with an injury. Lane Lambert likes the way Bolduc skates and moves the puck, but Bolduc is going to have to be stronger in his zone and make more decisive decisions when he encounters a different brand of hockey than he's seen in his professional career thus far, which includes just 17 NHL games.

“Obviously, the games are going to be a bit more physical, I would say. Given my size, it's probably one part of the game I can handle very well," Bolduc said to The Hockey News. "So yeah, just keep moving the puck quick and be physical, we me, an and everything will be fine.”

Time will tell if everything will be fine. We'd expect Carolina is going to put their top line out against the Dobson-Bolduc pairing as much as they can. The young pair will be tested early and often and Game 1 should be an early indication if they're up for the task.

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