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NHL

The Hurricanes Won Themselves Some Wiggle Room

1:06 PM EDT on April 20, 2023

Shayne Gostisbehere leaps onto the back of an Islanders player
Katherine Gawlik/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Hurricanes beat the Islanders 4-3 to go up two games in their first-round series on Wednesday night, but the more revealing margin might be 12 penalty minutes to two. The Isles got whistled four times, including two double minors, while the Canes only went to the box once, and even that just to set up a four-on-four.

A home favorite getting essentially five power plays to none should be nearly impossible to beat, but even with these extraordinarily helpful boosts the Canes needed a lot more assistance to eventually pull out the win. The first period started pretty cleanly for them, as Paul Stastny deflected a big Jaccob Slavin slapper and Antti Raanta stopped the few quality chances the Isles produced to send the teams into intermission at 1-0. Then the game got ironic.

In case you didn't know, there are two guys named Sebastian Aho in the NHL. One, an amazing forward, plays for the Canes, and the other, a good defenseman, plays for the Islanders. In the second period, Sebastian Aho scored a goal to make it 2-0 Canes. It was a remarkable, Luis Arráez-esque swing at the puck out of midair which created a shot that blew Ilya Sorokin's mind. This was Carolina's only power play goal, and it was made even more remarkable by the fact that it was scored by the wrong Sebastian Aho.

This was incredible break No. 1 for Carolina. They'd need another. Over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, the Islanders tied the game and then took the lead with a weird out-of-nowhere wraparound from Kyle Palmieri, a good rush finished by a Mat Barzal wrister, and an impressive Brock Nelson individual effort. And just when the ESPN announcing crew was getting very pessimistic about the Canes' own inability to convert, Slavin jolted everyone with a precision bonk off Sorokin's head to make the score 3-3 and eventually force overtime.

The fourth period was cagey for a few minutes and then gifted us the playoffs' biggest controversy yet. It starts with this wooden blow to the kisser by Jordan Martinook on Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield.

And it ends a few seconds later. With Mayfield still out of position, and no whistle on the high stick, Jesper Fast had an opening with which he could catch a pass and fire a pretty one by Sorokin for the victory and the 2-0 series lead.

The Islanders weren't happy in the postgame, though they stayed mostly passive aggressive. “I thought they probably deserved a penalty at some point throughout that hockey game tonight,” Matt Martin said in the locker room. “I don’t know about you. I don’t know what the penalties ended up. It is what it is.”

But because the bounces and the whistles went their way on Wednesday, the Canes have a giant margin for error. Even with the Isles traveling back home for Game 3, it looks like an uncomfortable task for New York to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole when scoring just three goals in a game is still a tricky feat for them.

However, Carolina's weaknesses were plain to see in Game 2. They did have at least one thing go wrong for them, as key forward Teuvo Teravainen suffered a hand injury that will keep him out for the rest of the series. (Head coach Rod Brind'Amour fumed about that no-call in his own postgame.) Teuvo's damage adds more pressure to an already fractured offense, which lost Andrei Svechnikov in March and never really got to use recent addition Max Pacioretty.

They'll need someone to step up, at least in the later rounds. The Canes play with energy and determination and are fantastic at keeping the puck on the right half of the ice, but close to the nets they start to wobble. Raanta's had his moments but can be a mixed bag in goal overall, and with the exception of Sebastian Aho (the right Sebastian Aho) these guys don't have the killer finishing that can make the most out of all their possession. That they were third in the league in shots this year but 15th in goals was a red flag that only gets brighter as they're forced to shuffle the forward lines. Their 2-0 lead may be solid, but as an ongoing contender, the Hurricanes themselves are looking pretty vulnerable.

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