The Carolina Hurricanes were happy to win Friday night’s Eastern Conference semifinal series opener against the New York Islanders. They might have been even happier the game ended when it did.
The Hurricanes look to continue their nail-biting playoff run Sunday afternoon when they visit the Islanders in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Carolina earned a 1-0 win in Game 1 when Jordan Staal scored 4:04 into overtime. The overtime victory was the second straight for the Hurricanes, who advanced to the second round with a 4-3, double-OT win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Winning two straight games in which they didn’t lead in regulation sure beats the alternative for the Hurricanes. But for a team that has been playing with a playoff-level intensity for months — Carolina was 16-17-5 on Dec. 31 and never led the Capitals in the series until Brock McGinn’s game-winner Wednesday — there was a tangible sense of relief that Friday’s overtime ended relatively quickly.
“These games, under the circumstances, with the rest factor for us, I think you want it to end quick one way or the other,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You just didn’t want this to drag on again because that’s really going to have effects later on. Obviously happy with the win, but happy that it didn’t really drag on.”
It was the NHL’s first 1-0 overtime playoff game since the St. Louis Blues beat the Chicago Blackhawks on April 13, 2016. It was the first 1-0 overtime game in the history of the Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise and the second for the Islanders, who edged the Blackhawks on April 18, 1979.
As rare as 1-0 overtime games are in the playoffs, Brind’Amour wasn’t surprised by the defensive tussle. The Islanders allowed the fewest goals (196) in the regular season.
“Against that team, you know that’s pretty much how it goes,” he said. “They’re not going to give you a lot, so you better be thinking the same way. That first shift might be the one that makes a difference in the game or wins the game for you and you have to think that way.”
The latest bit of dramatics by the Hurricanes put their opponents into an unfamiliar position: trailing in a postseason series. The Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, during which they trailed for just four minutes and 51 seconds.
“Some areas we can clean up, but it was a good hockey game,” Islanders right winger Matt Martin said afterward. “We’ll regroup. It’s a race to four (wins) so we’ve got to win the next one.”
While the Hurricanes have had no rest, the Islanders sat for nine days — the longest break between series for an NHL playoff team since the Blackhawks had nine days off between the Western Conference semifinals and finals in 2015 — before Friday night, when they played at Barclays Center for the first time since Feb. 16. New York played its final 13 regular season home games and Games 1 and 2 against Pittsburgh at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
“Overall, didn’t feel rusty,” Martin said. “Felt better than I thought I was going to feel. I think we fed off our crowd. First five minutes probably wasn’t our best, but once we started throwing the body a little bit, our crowd got into it, kind of gave us some energy.”
The Islanders practiced Saturday without center Leo Komarov and defenseman Scott Mayfield, both of whom were listed as out due to maintenance.