The New York Islanders were ready to capitalize, both on a bizarre bounce of the puck and mistakes by the Carolina Hurricanes. That was enough to keep them alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Brock Nelson scored by knocking in an airborne puck that had bounced off the face of Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, and the Islanders added two goals following turnovers to beat the Hurricanes 3-2 on Tuesday night and extend their first-round playoff series.
The Islanders trailed 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, but staved off elimination by scoring the game’s first two goals and never trailing while playing in front of a rowdy crowd eager to see the Hurricanes become the first team to advance to this year’s second round.
“We believe in one another, we believe in this group and what we can do and how we can play,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “That was no different coming into this evening. We came in tonight and played a very solid hockey game and put everything on the line.”
Mathew Barzal had the winner, taking a turnover by Martin Necas the other way to beat Antti Raanta late in the second period for a 3-1 lead. Carolina closed to within one midway through the third, but Ilya Sorokin and the Islanders tenaciously held that lead as the Hurricanes ran extended zone time with an empty-net attacker desperately seeking a late equalizer.
Instead, New York sent the series back to UBS Arena for Friday’s Game 6.
Pierre Engvall got the Islanders a lead midway through the first period after getting a 1-on-1 shot at Raanta off Carolina’s failed clear, while Sorokin finished with 34 saves to lead the Islanders.
Aho – who exited briefly after Nelson’s goal – and Paul Stastny scored for the Hurricanes, who were coming off a 5-2 win that ended an eight-game post-season road losing streak dating to 2021.
The Hurricanes certainly would’ve preferred to close this one out Tuesday considering how they’re grinding forward with an injury-depleted group of forwards – including top names like Andrei Svechnikov (season-ending knee injury) and Teuvo Teravainen (broken hand suffered in Game 2).
Aho’s score off a behind-the-net feed from Seth Jarvis cut the deficit to 3-2 midway through the third period. But the Hurricanes came up short on a night that included the Islanders successfully challenging a first-period goal by Stefan Noesen’s one-timer for coming on an uncalled offside.
Raanta finished with 19 saves, while Aho and defenceman Brent Burns both rang the post on a frustrating night for the Hurricanes. And now, they’ll have to win on the road again to avoid a Game 7 at home Sunday.
“I like the way we played, played hard,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We had a couple of mistakes that cost us, but there wasn’t a ton of those. It’s just the bounces didn’t go our way. It’s very simple.”
Nelson’s goal stood out. He swung at the puck after it had struck Aho near the mouth and was falling to the ice, batting it past Raanta on the right side early in the second for a wild score.
“(Engvall) with his speed and size kind of found himself in the slot with a little lane,” Nelson said. “Unfortunate it hits a guy in the face. For me it was nice, it was right there and I was able to get a stick on it in the air and go in.”
Aho eventually skated back to the bench while doubled over, then straight to the locker room. He returned midway through the period after getting stitches.
“I just kind of didn’t know what hit me,” Aho said. “It came pretty quickly there. Obviously the guy was probably not aiming for my face either. Yeah, it’s hockey, it happens.”
Engvall’s goal ended a nine-game post-season streak for the Islanders without a first-period goal.
New York missed the playoffs last year and hadn’t scored in the first period of a playoff game since Nelson’s score at 13:30 of Game 2 in a seven-game series loss to Tampa Bay in the 2021 Stanley Cup semi-finals.
Carolina forward Jack Drury didn’t play Tuesday after being knocked out early from Game 4 on a hard hit into the boards by Ryan Pulock. Brind’Amour said earlier Tuesday that Drury doesn’t have a concussion.
Former Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Cole – a member of the 2006 Stanley Cup winner – sounded the pre-game “storm warning” siren for the team to take the ice from the locker room.