Can the Islanders upset the Hurricanes in a battle of the NHL's outliers?

With a Vezina-caliber goaltender, New York may be poised to give Carolina a real run for its money.

The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders are both teams who do things their way. Overall, the brilliance — and undoing — of these teams sometimes boil down to how they diverge from NHL trends and norms.

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello loves abruptly firing coaches almost as often as he channels Mr. Burns’ hatred of Mattingly’s sideburns by demanding that his players remove all facial hair/signs of humanity. On the other end, every year, the Hurricanes hog the puck enough to set “fancy stat” computers on fire.

In marching to the beat of their own drums, the Hurricanes and Islanders sometimes parade in parallel. While so many NHL teams strive to possess the puck and limit seemingly-low-calorie point shots, the Hurricanes and Islanders gladly cough up the biscuit in the interest of general chaos.

If you didn’t know anything about these teams, you’d think that their trade deadline approaches would be flipped.

Despite their playoff chances being very much in doubt, the Islanders mortgaged their future in a way a contender would, most notably betting big on Bo Horvat. Meanwhile, a Hurricanes team perpetually knocking on the door decided not to invest in a noisy, expensive battering ram. Instead, they made the sort of investments (spending modestly on Jesse Puljujarvi and Shayne Gostisbehere) you’d expect from a bubble team unsure if a playoff run was even happening. Those moves would be ridiculed if the Hurricanes weren’t so often the smartest people in the proverbial room.

The Hurricanes and Islanders face off in the first round of the playoffs in a battle between two of the quirkiest teams in the NHL. (Getty Images)
The Hurricanes and Islanders face off in the first round of the playoffs in a battle between two of the quirkiest teams in the NHL. (Getty Images)

The strange staccato rhythms of these franchises blur expectations for this series. Normally, a team that barely scraped its way into the playoffs (the Islanders) would carry a “nothing to lose” attitude against a team that won its division for a second straight season (Hurricanes). Instead, both teams enter the playoffs a little wobbly, yet with legitimate urgency.

In the grand scheme of things, this could all come down to the Hurricanes’ waves of pressure creating a “quantity” of chances compared to the counter-punching Islanders striving for quality. It’s a superior team trying to will its way past superhuman goalie Ilya Sorokin.

However, it’s an odd beast of a series as well, because it’s not the simplest David vs. Goliath story. Perhaps the Islanders would be a David who decided to spend a ton of money on a premium slingshot, while Goliath wondered if it was cost-efficient to even bother with a helmet.

Ideally, the off-beat qualities of this series will coalesce into a toe-tapping hockey jam session.

What have you done for me lately?

Neither the Hurricanes nor the Islanders have been outright disasters, yet both teams enter the playoffs after a stumble... or three.

Before losing Andrei Svechnikov for the season, the Hurricanes were the second-best team in the NHL behind the historic Bruins. Since then, they’ve been closer to average, finishing 9-8-1 in the last 18 games.

The Hurricanes still hog the puck like a dog guarding its food, but it’s tough to shake the feeling (and early evidence) that their ceiling is lower without the added punch of a Svechnikov or Max Pacioretty.

Let’s be honest, though: the Hurricanes were sorting through “champagne problems” while the Islanders were battling for playoff survival. Such desperation made losses to the Capitals and Blue Jackets tough to stomach, but when you zoom out, the Islanders found a way to make up ground in a tight race.

The Hurricanes won three of four head-to-head matchups with the Islanders this season, earning a 12-9 edge in goals scored.

The Hurricanes will win this series if …

By just about any measure, the Hurricanes boast a superior all-around team game than the Islanders. If Frederik Andersen can stay healthy and play well, and special teams break even, Carolina holds the significant advantage.

The Islanders will win this series if …

Ilya Sorokin ends up being the enormous difference-maker he often is, while the Islanders also finish their chances at a higher rate than the (again) quantity-over-quality Hurricanes manage to do.

Series hero

Sebastian Aho is one of those players who’ve been listed as underrated for so long, it’s kind of getting old. Call it Aleksander Barkov Syndrome or The Loui Eriksson Before He Got Paid Too Much Conundrum. Anyway, this seems like one of those times for Aho to take over a series, right?

The Fernando Pisani Trophy (Unsung Hero)

This one’s tough because some people probably still aren’t on the Jaccob Slavin (all-world defense) or Martin Necas (led the team in scoring) bandwagons. A casual fan’s unsung hero is a tune a nerd like myself has heard too many times.

So, here’s an underrated guy who’s had a rough season so he might surprise: Teuvo Teravainen. For a deeper cut who could go on a burner: Jordan Martinook.


Hurricanes in seven.