The NY Islanders will open up the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. A whole lot had to happen for that to happen, and all of it did. Game 2 will be Wednesday night, and the rest of the first-round playoff schedule will be announced on Friday.
After their season looked lost following a deflating 5-2 loss in DC against the Washington Capitals, the Islanders needed help to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They got it and then some, not only securing a playoff spot on Wednesday night with a 4-2 win at home versus the Montreal Canadiens but are the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference following Carolina's 6-4 win in Florida on Thursday night that clinched the Metropolitan Division for the Canes and prevented the Panthers from overtaking the Islanders in the standings.
The Hurricanes, winners of three straight Metropolitan Division titles, are a very, very good hockey team and one that has historically given the Islanders fits. But they enter the postseason following a stretch of the season that makes them appear vulnerable against an Islanders team deep with playoff experience and an elite goaltender in Ilya Sorokin.
The Hurricanes boast a strong forward group, which includes their Sebastian Aho, but their top six took a hit, losing first Max Pacioretty and then leading scorer Andrei Svechnikov for the season. However, they remain as strong on the blueline with a top four consisting of Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei. They allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL season, second only to the Boston Bruins behind the goaltending tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. Neither is in the Vezina Trophy conversation like Sorokin, but their goaltending has been consistently good enough to win games to coincide with the team's precise defensive structure.
The Islanders went 1-3 against the Hurricanes this season, winning the first match-up 6-2 on Oct. 27 in Raleigh on the night Josh Bailey played his 1,000th game. From there, the Canes won all three, shutting them out 3-0 at UBS Arena on Dec. 10, beating them comfortably 5-2 in January when the Isles were at their lowest point, and then edging them out 2-1 in a closely contested game, but one where Carolina showed a bit more desperation than the Islanders did despite their position in the Eastern Conference standings at the time.
This will be the second playoff match-up between the two franchises. In 2019, the Islanders had to memorably and forgettably play the second round at Barclays Center after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one with the first two games at the Nassau Coliseum. The Hurricanes won 1-0 in OT in Game 1, scored a late goal to take Game 2 and then handled the Islanders at home to complete the sweep before getting swept themselves by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Final.
It should be a fun series; one many of us did not think was possible to happen weeks ago. The Islanders will be the consensus underdog, but that has historically been a position they like being in and this side of the bracket, with the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils winner waiting has the potential for providing some local playoff fireworks the New York metro area hasn't seen in decades.