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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Hurricanes vs. Islanders

Hurricanes vs. Islanders

Hurricanes vs. Islanders
(Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports)

2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Hurricanes vs. Islanders

It will be Hurricanes vs. Islanders for the second year in a row in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After an up-and-down six-game series in 2023, the two are meeting again with largely the same rosters intact. Furthermore, both sides are returning to the playoffs in similar fashion. Carolina just missed out on the President’s Trophy. However, it doesn’t change the fact that they were the best team in hockey for the second half of the season. The New York Rangers did enough for that honor after their red-hot start to 2023-2024. For the Islanders, however, they have played their best hockey of the season in the last ten games and earned the right to play further. They survived the bloodbath in the middle of the Eastern Conference with six teams fighting for two playoff spots into the final days of the regular season.

While this will not be the most flashy series, it’s gonna be a tight and physical one. While Carolina (52-23-7) is clearly the favorite, the Isles, who have doubters at every turn, probably don’t hate their chances. Regardless, it will be a very tall task. The ‘Canes are clicking and are arguably even more dangerous with Jake Guentzel now in the fold after their trade deadline blockbuster. They’ve been resting their stars recently for this exact moment. All four lines and three pairs are darn good and play a style of hockey that can beat you in all three zones.

What is complicated about the Islanders (39-27-16) is their potential. There is still a sliver of the Barry Trotz team that was a game away from the Stanley Cup final a couple of years ago. Fans also feel much better about the man behind the bench this time around. Lane Lambert was inexperienced and his decisions cost them multiple games, including the decisive Game Six. He got the can in January for Hall-of-Famer Patrick Roy. There were some growing pains, but the highlights include two six-game winning streaks down the home stretch. They have not lost in regulation since March 30th.

To their benefit, there is no more 3-on-3 overtime. No more shootouts. And, most importantly, a demand for complete concentration. The 16 overtime losses and countless blown leads are a thing of the past. If this team can play to their potential then we will have a real series on our hands. Lou Lamoriello decided to hold firm with this group at the trade deadline, with more roster changes on the horizon this Summer. Roy is gonna have even more time to determine who he wants to coach heading into 2024-2025.

Recent History

It goes without saying that they met in similar circumstances last year. Carolina won the Metro while the Isles slipped in as the first Wild Card. Despite imposing themselves heavily, New York was able to roll with the punches and force a Game Six at UBS Arena following a gutsy Game Five win on the road. Cal Clutterbuck scored early to get the crowd roaring, but that was all the Islanders could muster. Lambert had them play conservatively for the remainder of the game and it cost them. Ilya Sorokin gave up a soft goal in overtime to lose the series and end an excellent season. The Hurricanes went on to lose in the Eastern Conference Final 4-0 to the Florida Panthers.

Their other meeting in the playoffs came in 2019. Here, the Canes swept the Islanders in the second round after they swept the Penguins out in Trotz’s first season behind the bench. Carolina ironically also got swept in the Conference Finals, but that time against the Bruins. Both teams featured players that still play today. It hasn’t been much of a rivalry in terms of results but both teams do not like each other very much.

Why Carolina Wins

The simple answer is that they’re the better team. They are deeper on all four lines and three defense pairs. Their big guns are more dangerous than the Islanders. And, a hot Freddie Andersen (or Pyotr Kochetkov) is money. In 16 games this season, the Great Dane looks as good as he ever has in the NHL. It also goes without saying that they are hungry. They’ve knocked on the door time and time again but have come up short. GM Don Waddell is also putting a lot of eggs in this basket with Guentzel only a rental as of now.

He has done a phenomenal job building this team. You cannot deny that. However, windows open as quickly as they close in hockey. At some point, he is gonna have to refresh the core. There is still close to half a decade of deep runs left in this roster. But missing out on the Cup year after year will leave them asking questions. Expect them to put it all on the line to put those doubts to bed.

If you had to point to specific players, look no further than their top line. Guentzel – Sebastion AhoSeth Jarvis is as good a line in hockey as any. They can all shoot, pass, skate, hit, you name it. In the fairly small sample size they’ve played together, the trio has a whopping 65 expected goals percentage. They keep the puck deep in the opposing end and more likely than not do great things with it. It feels like their defense has three top pairs with how good and in sync those six guys are.

Hate him or love him, Rod Brind’Amour is one of the best coaches in the league. He coaches his players tough, but will do whatever it takes to win. While he has picked up some controversy in the media for his thoughts on the officials, he cares a lot. He has employed a lethal style of play that moves the pucks between zones quickly and efficiently. As well, physicality and structure is weaved perfectly into everything they do. There is a lot to like about this team, and that’s why they are a clear Stanley Cup favorite before a puck is dropped.

Special teams are also a key to this series. Like last year, the Isles’ penalty kill is cold. It started off well, but has since faded into obscurity and sits in the middle of the pack with efficiency. However, it is their Penalty Kill that is liable to be exploited. It is historically bad, sitting at just over 72% on the season. The onus is on the Islanders to stay disciplined and keep the play at 5v5 because if not, that is where games will start being won and lost quickly.

Why The Islanders Win

The one department New York has a chance of overtaking Carolina is goaltending. Semyon Varlamov has been sensational down the stretch after taking the baton from a struggling Sorokin. From March 10th onward, the vet owns an 8-1-1 record with a .930 save percentage and 2.10 goals against average. If the magic runs out on Varly, Roy can return to Sorokin with a decent amount of confidence. On primetime against a ticked off Rangers team, he put on a show with 41 saves on 43 shots during a 3-2 shootout loss at MSG. Starting next season, the Islanders will have one of the most expensive goalie tandems in hockey. They have the chance to turn a lot of heads if the pair can play up to their price tag.

Furthermore, if their stars are the best players on the ice then that may drag them over the finish line. The combination of Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat has been dynamic this season. They would need to be on their A-game to find a way to navigate through this series. On the blue line, Noah Dobson is the Islanders’ first 70-point defenseman since Dynasty captain Denis Potvin. Those three are the heartbeat of this team if it wasn’t obvious.

Special teams, as previously mentioned, is a major x-factor in this series. On the small chance that the Isles are able to flip the script, then all bets are off. 2023 went down in infamy because of a frustratingly bad powerplay. Despite numerous opportunities, New York could not make Carolina pay on the man-advantage. Dobson has a big role in stabilizing the puck and generating shot opportunities. Their ability to shore up the PK and sharpen the PP is unbelievably crucial.

Another meaningful aspect of this series for the Isles is depth scoring. Five players scored at least 20 goals in the regular season, with four more in double digits. If there is one player that the Canes need to keep under wraps, it’s Kyle Palmieri. Since Roy took over, there is arguably no forward who’s played as well as him. With 30 goals and 24 assists, it’s easily his best season in an Islanders sweater. 53 points is the highest total since the 2016-2017 season and he tied his career high for goals in a season. While he’s not a flashy name, the Long Island native is a streaky scorer and playoff performer. The second line featuring him and Brock Nelson will have a big say in this series.

The Pick

It’s not a lie to say that the Islanders deserve a lot of credit for finding fire at the right time and making a strong push to get here. However, it’s hard to give them more of a puncher’s chance. The optimist in me will point to the bad bounces and lackluster coaching that cost them the series last year. That’s also moot when you realize Carolina did enough to win. You need to be realistic. That team is good enough to dominate anyone in the league. The Isles are good enough to take a couple of games here. But I simply don’t think they have enough to win four games out of seven against the buzzsaw on the other side. Of course, I would love to be proven wrong. There is too much pointing in the Canes direction though.

Carolina in 6

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