It was only Game 1 but Friday’s Eastern Conference semifinal opener between the Islanders and Hurricanes already had the feel of a Game 7.
And the way these two gritty teams battled for every inch of ice, rattled the boards with every check and struggled to get a puck past either goalie, they may find themselves in that position in 10 days.
However, the Islanders will be playing from behind for the first time in these playoffs. Carolina’s Jordan Staal shoveled a shot past Robin Lehner to break a scoreless tie 4:04 into overtime for a 1-0 victory to deflate the sea of orange-and-blue clad fans at a soldout Barclays Center.
The Canes, who needed two overtimes Wednesday to eliminate the Capitals in Game 7 of the first round, got a bit of good fortune on the winning goal. Staal, alone at the right side of the net, rattled the shot off Lehner’s skate after Nino Niederreiter’s blast banked off the boards to the wide-open center.
“It’s not the result we wanted,” Lehner said. “We knew they’d throw a lot of weird stuff at us and they win on a (crap) bounce.”
The Islanders put themselves in jeopardy after Cal Clutterbuck turned the puck over in his own zone to give Carolina a 2-on-1 and the Isles couldn’t scramble back in time. It was the team’s 25th giveaway of the game, to just 10 for the disciplined Canes.
“We got a little cute and it came back the other way,” Isles coach Barry Trotz said. “We had some people tired and on the wrong side. They throw the puck off the end wall and get a bounce and they put it right back in there.”
Lehner had made 31 saves up to the point, keeping the Canes at bay after the Islanders — playing for the first time in 10 days — got off to a flat start. The Isles didn’t get their first shot on goal until nearly six minutes into the opening period.
Canes goalie Petr Mrazek stopped 31 shots, many in spectacular fashion, for his second shutout of this postseason and fifth of his career. In the first period, Mrazek foiled Josh Bailey on a breakaway and stoned Anders Lee all alone in the crease, then made a nice glove save on Clutterbuck’s shorthanded effort midway through the third.
“If we had converted on some of our chances early it may have been a different game,” said Trotz, who was named as one of the finalists for coach of the year before the game.
The Canes showed few ill-effects from their grueling first-round series, bottling up Isles playmaker Mathew Barzal, who finished with just two shots. He did have a goal waived off in the second period after Anders Lee was called for goalie interference.
“I felt Lee got pushed in there but those are hard to call,” said Trotz, who didn’t ask for a review. “We looked at it as a staff and decided we wouldn’t go there.”
The Islanders’ power play also let them down, going 0-for-4 with seven shots on goal.