Sunday evening, the Carolina Hurricanes visited the New York Islanders, with whom they shared last place in the Metropolitan Division. When two last-place teams go at it, the hockey can be very entertaining. Sunday’s game was exactly that, an entertaining tilt that the Hurricanes won 4-3.
Both teams had lost their most recent games, with the Hurricanes putting together an epic meltdown last Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins and another Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders had been blasted two nights in a row by the Washington Capitals. Thursday night, they lost 7-3 at home and Friday night 6-3 in Washington.
Here the Hurricanes Go Again
In some respects, the script was unfolding like it had in recent Hurricanes outings. They scored first and then again to take an early 2-0 lead. Jaccob Slavin, who had played with renewed intensity Saturday night in the losing effort against the Flyers, scored the first goal. Slavin has emerged as a de facto leader on the Hurricanes team, his play for a full 60 minutes setting a standard his teammates can emulate.
A couple of minutes later, Lee Stempniak scored an unassisted goal to give the Hurricanes the 2-0 lead. The team missed the stability that Stempniak gave them last season. Out most of this season due to injury, having Stempniak back on the ice has drawn criticism from different voices, but likely because they don’t remember the value he gave to the team last season. His value may not be appreciated as this season winds down, and as an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Stempniak may well not be on the roster next season.
Hurricanes fans may well have been thinking “here we go again” when their team jumped out to the lead. The last few leads have not been safe, and the last two ended in epic meltdowns. Frankly, with Scott Darling in-goal, there was a precedent for not being comfortable or over-confident with the Hurricanes’ lead. However, they enjoyed taking that lead into the locker room at the end of the first period.
The cynic would say, “As expected, the Islanders came back and tied the game.” Josh Bailey cut the lead in half at 10:29 in the second period. Ryan Pulock had fired at Darling and an alert Bailey posted up at the front of the net deflected it in for the goal. It was Bailey’s 18th goal of the season and took his point total to a nice 67.
Not to be outdone, less than two minutes later Anders Lee scored his first of two on the night, taking his total at game’s end to 35 for the season. Lee has been a scoring threat throughout this season with the Islanders, and Darling was no match for him Sunday night. The game was tied 2-2, but the action was nowhere near over.
Victor Rask made it 3-2 Hurricanes, also within a two-minute time frame. Within 3:35 there were three goals scored, either a credit to hard aggressive play by the offense of both the Hurricanes and the Islanders or average to poor goaltender play by two teams at the bottom of their division. In either case, it kept the game entertaining, and Hurricanes fans wondering if Darling could hold the lead. They did not have to wonder for very long.
Tension to the Very End
Lee got his second goal at 8:05 in the third period. Not surprisingly, it was the third assist of the night for John Tavares, taking his season total to 41 and point total to 73. Tavares will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and if the new Hurricanes general manager wants to help his team, he will go after Tavares with his hair on fire. He could very well be what the Hurricanes need to get to the next level.
At 3-3, a minor version of the “epic meltdown” seemed to be on the horizon. Having lost leads the previous two games, it began to feel that this would be the third. And as stated earlier, Darling has not engendered a wealth of confidence in keeping a lead. But, he would get his chance.
At 13:11, Trevor van Riemsdyk put the eventual game-winner in the net. Darling was able to hold the 4-3 lead, and the Hurricanes left Brooklyn with two points.
The Hurricanes have 10 games left in the 2017-18 season. They trail the New Jersey Devils by nine points as of this writing. For all intents and purposes, they are out of the playoffs. And even though they were playing the team with whom they shared the bottom of the division, they have not given up. They showed heart and played to the end. Darling got the win, which is important.
All in all, it was a good Sunday night of hockey for Hurricanes fans. For Islanders fans, not so much, although their team also did not give up. That is a good thing.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.