Just as we all predicted, the Carolina Hurricanes are going to play in the Eastern Conference Final.
The team that the man with the garish suits referred to as a “bunch of jerks” for their post-game celebrations brought out the brooms on the New York Islanders, finishing them off in four games with a 5-2 win in Game 4. That comment and ones like it seemed to accomplish nothing except to galvanize the Canes and their fans. A bunch of NASCAR fans sticking it to the unwritten rules of the hockey establishment, so to speak. Right now the Hurricanes look like they’d run through a brick wall for Coach Brind’Amour.
Before we discuss the game itself, here are a few interesting facts about the result of this series and the teams involved:
This is the very first four-game sweep in Carolina/Hartford franchise history.
Although the Hurricanes have only made it to the playoffs four times since 2002, they’ve made it to the Eastern Conference Final all four times. No point in making the playoffs if you're one and done, right?
The Islanders are the first team since the 1992-93 Buffalo Sabres to sweep one series, then get swept in the next series.
The teams finished the first period in a 1-1 tie after Mathew Barzal and Sebastian Aho exchanged early first-period power-play goals. But the Canes came out in full force in the second period, scoring three times before the midway point. Robin Lehner was pulled after the Hurricanes made it 3-1. Lehner allowed three goals on 11 shots, while Thomas Greiss allowed two goals in ten shots in relief.
Aho and Teuvo Teravainen led the way for the Hurricanes, scoring a goal and adding an assist each. That’s two consecutive two-point games for each.
Curtis McElhinney stopped 26 of 28 shots he faced in posting his third consecutive victory since taking over from the injured Petr Mrazek. The Canes wouldn’t start the Eastern Conference Final until the middle of next week at the earliest, which could be enough time for Mrazek to heal and be a possibility for Game 1 against Columbus or Boston. McElhinney has proven that he isn’t a significant dropoff from Mrazek, so the veteran Curtis Mac potentially starting Game 1 shouldn’t hurt the Canes’ chances that much.
With an assist in Game 4, Warren Foegele is now up to nine points (5g-4a) in 11 playoff games. That ties the Hurricanes/Whalers rookie record for postseason points by a rookie, set by Erik Cole in 2002 (Cole played 23 playoff games that season). Foegele must be breathing some of that magic playoff dust from Justin Williams, who has now scored goals in back-to-back games himself. Based on his playoff performance, Foegele looks primed to take a significant leap from his 15-point (10g-5a) rookie season.
Even though nothing went right for the Islanders in this second-round series, they have to be happy to far surpass preseason expectations. If you would have proclaimed that the Tavares-less Islanders would not only make the playoffs, but also sweep the Penguins in the first round, your prediction would have looked like an even bigger reach than any of the 15 Fearless Forecasts.
Okay, I’m probably going to start another awards debate here, but this is an example of coaching changes really mattering. Barry Trotz should win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. Under Trotz and his goalie coach Mitch Korn, the Isles improved their goals-against average by over a goal per game (1.24, to be exact), going from worst to first (yes, 31st to 1st) in that category in the span of one season. The positive effect of bringing in a new coach and management (Lou Lamoriello) surpassed the negative effect of losing the franchise player, though we were led to believe that the opposite would be true.
In the end, a lack of scoring did the Islanders in (just five goals in four games). The Islanders clearly need an upgrade in scoring before they can be considered one of the NHL’s elite teams. Their scoring performed about as expected this past season (2.72 GF/GP, 22nd in NHL) without Tavares. They will have some decisions to make this offseason, with all of Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee headed for unrestricted free agency. They’ll have the cap space, but will they have the financial means to fill it? If so, how exactly will they allocate that money? Lee is due for a raise, while they might be able to sign Eberle at a slight discount. Could they take the money they had set aside for Tavares and take a run at another top-6 forward to upgrade the offense? Lots of questions here.
I’m very interested to find out what happens with the goaltending situation. The Isles aren’t that big of a big spender in free agency, so I don’t think Sergei Bobrovsky is on their radar. Lehner was a bargain at $1.5 million, but he’s going to need a raise if he returns to Long Island. If the Isles somehow can’t sign the resurgent Lehner, Greiss’ fantasy value could shoot through the roof if he’s made the starter. Even if the Isles sign a 1B-type goalie, Greiss would still be valued as a top-20 goalie in fantasy leagues in my opinion. That system will benefit any goalie – even one brought into a timeshare situation.
Regarding Lehner, this is worthy of mention at least one more time:
Ben Bishop stood tall for Dallas in Game 5. The 6-7 goalie stopped 38 of 39 shots in the Stars’ 2-1 win over the Blues in Game 5, giving the Stars a 3-2 series lead heading back to Big D for Game 6. Bishop was the difference in this game, as the Stars were outshot 39-27. Bishop had to make 14 saves in the third period alone as the Blues pressed to tie the game. Yes, goaltending in the playoffs is as important as ever.
Bishop’s lone goal allowed resulted from this failed attempt at shooting the puck, which led to a goal from Jaden Schwartz.
But then he made this incredible save on Oskar Sundqvist to keep the Stars ahead for good.
Even though Jason Spezza has been relegated to the fourth line, he’s been coming through recently. With a goal in Game 5, Spezza now has goals in back-to-back games as well as three goals and an assist in this series. Spezza has made the most of the limited icetime he has received, as the only game he has exceeded 10 minutes of icetime in this series was in Game 1.
Esa Lindell might be better known for his obvious dives in Game 3, but he scored the Stars’ other goal (his first-ever playoff goal) while blocking five shots while logging 29 minutes in Game 5. He has averaged more icetime per game than any Stars’ d-man during the playoffs.
Schwartz’s goal was his seventh of the playoffs, which leads the Blues in goals. He is also tied for the team lead with Alex Pietrangelo in points (9) in 11 games. He is benefitting from being back on the Blues’ top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly. After his lowest points-per-game total (0.52) since his 2012-13 rookie season, Schwartz could be a rebound candidate back to the 50-point mark if he build off his strong playoff run and find his way back onto the top line next season.
In the latest of the drama that is the Oilers’ GM search, Ken Holland has been offered the job of Oilers’ GM, but Holland has yet to decide whether he will take the job (Sportsnet). Let’s see if he’s up for the challenge. Do we say that if he can’t save the Oilers, then no one can?
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.