CAR NYI series preview

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs features 16 teams in eight best-of-7 series, which start Saturday. Today, previews the Eastern Conference First Round between the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes.

(2M) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (3M) New York Islanders

Hurricanes: 52-23-7, 111 points

Islanders: 39-27-16, 94 points

Season series: CAR: 2-1-1, NYI: 2-1-1

Game 1: Saturday, 5 p.m. ET (MAX, truTV, TBS, SNP, SNW, SNE, SN360, TVAS)

The Carolina Hurricanes are hoping for more of the same, and the New York Islanders are looking to turn the tables when the teams meet in the 2024 Eastern Conference First Round, a rematch of their series in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Hurricanes won that series in six games, the first step in a journey that ended in a sweep by the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final.

But the Hurricanes remember how hard that series was and say they think this Islanders team is playing just as well, if not better.

"They work hard, and they've got a heavy lineup," Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho said. "They forecheck well up and down. It's a good team."

Said veteran forward Jordan Staal: "They're a very tough team to play against. Obviously, they can grind with the best of them. They've got a great goalie who can steal games as well and some scoring ability up front, too. They're in the playoffs for a reason, obviously a great team. They're a good challenge right from the start."

The teams have met one other time in the postseason, a sweep by the Hurricanes in 2019.

"We've seen them a lot; they're a great hockey team," Islanders forward Anders Lee said of the Hurricanes. "There's a reason why they were coming down to the last game for the Presidents' Trophy. So, we have a big task at hand. It's a complete team over there, but we've seen them a lot lately. We know what we need to do to have success, and part of that is executing everything we got to do and just playing our style of hockey."

The biggest change for the Islanders this time around could be behind the bench. Patrick Roy replaced Lane Lambert on Jan. 20 and went 20-12-5 in 37 games. The Islanders went 8-0-1 in April to move from outside the playoff picture into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

"[Roy] has got them playing really well," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I don't know if there's a ton of difference in the lineup necessarily, but they're playing certainly as a group of 20, and you can see that."

The Hurricanes finished the season by winning seven of their final nine games, with one of the losses coming in their last game, a 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday when they rested eight of their regular skaters.

Each team won two games on the road in the season series: Carolina 4-3 in overtime Nov. 4 and 4-1 on March 19; and New York 5-4 in overtime Nov. 30 and 5-4 on Dec. 23.

"They're a really good team; they're playing fast," Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. "You feel like they're on top of you everywhere on the ice. It's going to be the team that competes the hardest that's going to win.

"We know we can play with them, and we can compete with them, and we beat them this year during the season, so it's going to be a good battle, and I think if we play with our identity, which we were able to get back, which is never quit, always compete and battle, I like our team."

Game breakers

Hurricanes: Jake Guentzel, the marquee acquisition prior the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline, was brought in to provide more offensive depth. The price was huge; the Hurricanes gave up forward Michael Bunting, forward prospects Vasily Ponomarev, Ville Koivunen, and Cruz Lucius, a conditional first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft for Guentzel and defenseman Ty Smith. The payoff has been bigger. Guentzel has settled in on the top line and has 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 17 games. Sebastian Aho, his center, has 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in the same span.

CAR@BOS: Guentzel puts a shot on net that gets put in by a defender

Islanders: Mathew Barzal is the most skilled player on the team and, not surprisingly, he is their leading scorer. The forward has 80 points (23 goals, 57 assists) in 80 games this season, the only point-per-game player on the roster. But it's not just his points, it is the speed at which he plays the game that gives fits to opponents. He can put a defense on its back foot and change a game plan. The Hurricanes will have to account for him each time he is on the ice.


Hurricanes: Carolina has not had a bona fide No. 1 goaltender in recent memory. Frederik Andersen played 52 games in 2021-22, the first Carolina goalie to play more than 50 games since Cam Ward played 61 in 2016-17. Since, they have been a platoon team, which has been a boon in the regular season and a struggle in the postseason. It's more of the same this season with no clear-cut favorite to start. Four goalies started games this season: Pyotr Kochetkov (40 games), Antti Raanta (20), Andersen (16) and Spencer Martin (six), but now it is a 1a-1b situation with Kochetkov and Anderson. Kochetkov went 23-13-4 with a 2.33 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and four shutouts. Anderson, out long-term with a blood-clotting issue, is 9-1-0 with a 1.30 GAA, .951 save percentage and three shutouts since returning on March 4.

Islanders: A late-season charge by Semyon Varlamov has unseated Ilya Sorokin as the No. 1 goalie. In his past 10 starts, Varlamov is 8-1-1 with a 2.09 GAA and a .930 save percentage. It's likely that Roy will go with the hot hand in Varlamov over Sorokin, who played in the All-Star Game last season when he was also a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Varlamov played in 33 postseason games for the Islanders from 2019-21, going 18-14 with a 2.31 GAA and .922 save percentage. Sorokin played every minute against the Hurricanes in the first round last season and went 2-4 with a 2.60 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Numbers to know

Hurricanes: The Hurricanes rank second in the NHL on the power play (26.9 percent) and first on the penalty kill (86.4 percent). Simply put, Carolina has eaten other teams alive in special teams play throughout the regular season and it will be a clear advantage in this series. The Islanders rank 19th on the power play (20.4 percent) and last on the penalty kill (71.5 percent).

Islanders: New York allowed 196 goals in the second and third periods during the regular season, a total only topped by five teams, each of whom missed the playoffs. In the second period, the Islanders allowed 107 goals. The San Jose Sharks (109), who finished last in the League standings, were the only team to allow more.


Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov did not play in 2023 postseason after having surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee but the forward bounced back this regular season; he tied for the second-best points per game average of his NHL career (0.88; 52 points in 59 games) and is an important secondary scorer considering Carolina has been playing Guentzel on the top line with Aho. Svechnikov's goal-scoring upside (30 in 2021-22) makes him a potential difference maker. -- Pete Jensen

Islanders: Noah Dobson had a breakout season with an NHL career-high 70 points (10 goals, 60 assists) in 79 games, seventh in the League among defensemen, but has missed the past three games because of an upper-body injury. Dobson ranks sixth among defensemen in assists this season and second at the position in primary assists (35) behind Roman Josi (38) of the Nashville Predators. Given the Islanders issues on special teams, Dobson's health and level of play at each end of the ice is crucial to their chances of upsetting the Hurricanes. -- Pete Jensen

NSH@NYI: Dobson nets his 10th goal of season

They said it:

"This is the kind of group we've never had in here before. We've got all the skill and all the talent on our team. We know we can do this. It's just up to us if we do this or not."-- Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov

"It feels like we played them a ton going back to the last couple of years. They play fast, they throw everything at the net. They got a lot of skill. Their defense is always involved. It's a good test for us. We match up well against them in a way that they're always intense, close games. And we're looking forward to that challenge." -- Islanders forward Kyle Palmieri

Will win if…

Hurricanes: They stick to the game plan. They are superior to the Islanders in almost every facet and have dominated the League for long stretches this season. Their plus-63 goal differential is the second-best in the League behind the Florida Panthers and their 216 goals against is fourth-best. They are deep, they are talented and they are disciplined. They haven't beaten themselves much this regular season and don't want to start in the postseason.

Islanders: They figure out how to generate more offense, especially on their power play. New York averages 2.99 goals per game, the second-lowest output of any of the teams that qualified for the postseason behind the Washington Capitals (2.63). The Islanders drew 231 power-play opportunities, the fifth-lowest in the League and scored on 47 (20.4 percent). Among playoff teams, only the Winnipeg Jets (19.1) and Vegas Golden Knights (20.1) had worst conversion rates.

How they look

Hurricanes projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Sebastian Aho -- Seth Jarvis

Jordan Martinook -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Martin Necas

Andrei Svechnikov -- Jordan Staal -- Teuvo Teravainen

Stefan Noesen -- Jack Drury -- Jesper Fast

Jaccob Slavin -- Brent Burns

Brady Skjei -- Brett Pesce

Dmitry Orlov -- Jalen Chatfield

Frederik Andersen

Pyotr Kochetkov

Scratched: Bradly Nadeau, Brendan Lemieux, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Tony DeAngelo, Scott Morrow, Dylan Coghlan, Max Comtois, Spencer Martin

Injured: None

Islanders projected lineup

Casey Cizikas -- Bo Horvat -- Mathew Barzal

Hudson Fasching -- Brock Nelson -- Kyle Palmieri

Anders Lee -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Pierre Engvall

Matt Martin -- Kyle MacLean -- Cal Clutterbuck

Alexander Romanov -- Sebastian Aho

Adam Pelech -- Ryan Pulock

Mike Reilly -- Robert Bortuzzo

Semyon Varlamov

Ilya Sorokin

Scratched: Samuel Bolduc, Oliver Wahlstrom, Simon Holmstrom

Injured: Noah Dobson (upper body)