“The thing I give our group the biggest credit for tonight is somehow figuring that out, to match the intensity right away,” Brind’Amour said.
The Islanders had thought about hockey, practiced hockey, discussed hockey and watched hockey, but they had not actually played hockey in 10 days, since dispatching the Penguins on April 16. Coach Barry Trotz was more curious than concerned how his team would react after the long layoff, and though he hinted at potential line changes for Sunday, over all, he said, he was pleased.
The Islanders had a goal by Mathew Barzal negated by goaltender interference. They thought they scored in the third period — the horn blared, the crowd roared — but Ryan Pulock’s one-timer instead lodged in the outside netting. They felt they should have neutralized Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek earlier — Josh Bailey’s breakaway, Anders Lee’s backhand from in tight — but they didn’t, couldn’t.
Like a trick candle at a child’s birthday party, the Hurricanes cannot be extinguished. After twice staving off elimination, they won despite not leading during regulation for the second time in three days.
Punctuated by Carolina’s contribution, the opening round unspooled into chaos, detonated by the exits of all four division champions. The outcomes, in totality, ran so counter to the regular-season standings that it seemed as if it had been decreed that the series would be decided not by the teams themselves but rather by the potency of their mascots: an avalanche should smother flames, so happy trails, Calgary, and welcome to the next round, Colorado.
In advancing, the Islanders and Hurricanes knocked out two of the league’s most recognizable and accomplished players, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, who have hoisted the last three Stanley Cups. In a field that now lacks a pair of perennial contenders, Pittsburgh and Washington, and the Presidents’ Trophy winner for the most points in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders and Carolina sense an opportunity.
“We’re not in a position to believe we have a better chance against one team than we do another,” winger Cal Clutterbuck said. “We really don’t feel like we’re entitled to anything. We don’t feel like we’re owed anything. We really feel that what we’ve accomplished is because of the entire group doing it a certain way.”