The narrative heading into the New York Islanders first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was that the Carolina Hurricanes were there for the taking.
Despite winning the Metropolitan Division with 113 points and handling the Islanders the last three times they met in the regular season, Rod Brind'Amour's team was not the best version of themselves entering the playoffs and hadn't been since losing the leading goal scorer Andrei Svechnikov to a season-ending injury.
We all remember watching the last regular season game of the season between Carolina and the Florida Panthers. A Hurricanes win meant that the Islanders would avoid the President's Trophy and the record-setting Boston Bruins. That's what we were rooting to happen. Carolina won, and Florida was headed to Boston in a series few, if any, gave the 93-point team to win. As we now know, that result worked out for both teams after the Panthers' stunning upset of the Bruins in the first round. Now, both teams lead their respective second-round series two games to none.
If you're like me, watching Carolina dominate the New Jersey Devils - a team that is what the Islanders are not - young and fast - gives you mixed emotions. Part of you is angry and annoyed because the Islanders were a few bad goals and a fortuitous bounce away from winning that series and could have gotten past New Jersey.
"That's always a focus, breaking the puck out as quickly and efficiently as you can, said Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech. "Against Carolina, they're a team that makes that extremely difficult, more so than any other team in the league. "That's part of the reason we didn't win the series, because we didnt' break the puck out effectively but that's also what they do."
On the other side, it makes you wonder if the Isles did, in fact, have enough talent to make a deep playoff run. If so, should that change the outlook for the off-season? Is Mathew Barzal correct when he said that this group's "best days are still ahead" on Monday?
We're seeing Carolina do to the Devils what they did to the Islanders - only with more success. None of this means that the Islanders don't need more scoring, more finishers, more youth; they absolutely do. The Islanders have a roster better constructed for playoff hockey than for the regular season. It will continually be harder for them to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs than teams with more high-end offensive talent and do not have to rely on a physical, defensive structure and elite goaltending to make the postseason. The regular season is an 82-game slog for them.
But if they qualify, they still possess the components necessary to win when it matters most - with some changes necessary to make it more likely to end up on the right side of a close series.
"The margin in this league is very small and you need to click at the right time, said Matt Martin to the media on clean out day. "I don't think Boston is. a bad team or a failure because they lost. There's momentum swings, there's things that happen in hames that change the outlook."
"I think as a team, we're right there," added Martin. Obviously, management will make the change they feel is necessary to compete for a Cup because, for them, winning is the goal...there's changes every year, but we're confident as a group we can get the job done."
Maybe, they're right and watching how these other series play out proves that.