Hurricanes vs Islanders: Battle of the Goalie Tandems

The Carolina Hurricanes ousted the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. They won Game 7 on the road in a series where the home team had won every game up. It took two overtime periods in the seventh game but the Hurricanes did what few thought they could and won the game and the series, 4-3.

Now, it’s on to the New York Islanders. These two teams met four times in the regular season with the Islanders winning three of those contests. The first game was the Hurricanes’ season opener on Oct. 4 when the Islanders won in overtime.

They met again on Oct. 28 and the Islanders won again, as they did on Nov. 24. Their last meeting of the season was on Jan. 4 and the Hurricanes won that game 4-1. At the time, the ‘Canes were in the early stages of turning their season around.

Islanders’ Thomas Greiss

A key point to ponder is that the Islanders’ three wins over the Hurricanes came with Thomas Greiss in goal. He saved 45 of 46 shots in the first game, 38 of 39 in the second, and finally 26 of 27 in the third. In the fourth game, Greiss only saved 20 of 24. For three games out of four, he had the Hurricanes’ number but Greiss is not the only Islanders goalie in these playoffs.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Thomas Greiss
New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss has been excellent against the Hurricanes this season. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mary Altaffer)

Robin Lehner backstopped the Islanders to a sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first-round matchup. The Islanders can call on Greiss or Lehner, who has started in these playoffs even though Greiss has been equally “hot” this season.

Islanders’ Robin Lehner

Lehner was with the Buffalo Sabres before joining the Islanders and putting up his best numbers. The 27-year-old Swede went 25-13 and posted a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.13 and a save percentage of .930. This was slightly better than Greiss, who had a GAA of 2.28 and a save percentage of .927.

Lehner was 4-0 against the Penguins but, the good thing for the Islanders is knowing that they could have just as easily had Greiss in nets and the outcome would likely have been the same.

Sidney Crosby, Robin Lehner
New York Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner stops Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Both goalies put up solid numbers and were a formidable tandem all season according to SBNation’s Pensburgh: “There were many contributing factors to the Islanders’ success this year, but none more so than the play of goaltenders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Together, Lehner and Greiss only allowed a combined 196 goals against, giving them the William M. Jennings Trophy for least amount of goals allowed with at least 25 games played.”

Hurricanes Tandem of Goalies

A successful tandem for an entire season is not the norm in the NHL, unless you look at the Hurricanes who also rode a pair of goaltenders to the postseason. Petr Mrázek and Curtis McElhinney teamed up much in the same manner as Lehner and Greiss to give the Hurricanes a last line of defense on which they could depend.

Mrázek had a GAA of 2.39 and a save percentage of .914 on his way to a 23-14-3 record. McElhinney was 20-11-2 with a GAA of 2.58 and a save percentage of .912. Both goalies had hot streaks and a couple of not-so-hot games but, over the season they were reliable and a huge part of the Hurricanes’ success.

Carolina Hurricanes Petr Mrazek
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek celebrates his shoot out win. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

While Mrázek played all seven games against the Capitals in round one, McElhinney is ready, much like Greiss is ready to go if needed. Lehner had a very hot hand against the Penguins, giving up only 6 goals in the four-game sweep. He posted a phenomenal 1.47 GAA and a save percentage of .956. Greiss may not get to see any action if Lehner continues against the Hurricanes in that fashion.

Mrázek had a GAA of 2.53 and a save percentage of .899 against the Capitals. He gave up 19 goals over seven games. It’s important to remember that he held the Capitals to one goal in the first two games on the Hurricanes’ home ice.

Mrázek had a hot hand and, even though he went back to Washington DC and gave up six goals, he settled down and won the next two games and the series. One has to wonder if McElhinney is at all bothered by not getting any ice time, especially after the 6-0 disaster in DC. But, he has been around the league a long time and is staying ready to play if called upon.

Curtis McElhinney, Blake Comeau, Radek Faksa
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic questioned in his preview of the Hurricanes vs Islanders series if Lehner would be able to keep the hot hand that he had against the Penguins, but he also has little faith in Mrázek: “I don’t personally have much faith in the Islanders’ shooting talent, but I have even less faith in Petr Mrazek, especially with the number of chances the Islanders generated in the first round.

On offense, the team looked much stronger than they ever did during the regular season. Carolina was one of the stingiest teams in terms of allowing chances in the first round and is a great defensive team in their own right, making it harder for the team to get a lot of looks, but the chances they do get likely have a decent shot of going in considering the goaltender,” (From “2019 NHL playoff preview: Islanders vs. Hurricanes” – Dom Luszczyszyn – The Athletic, April 25, 2019.)

While Luszczyszyn smacked Mrázek pretty hard, the fact is that his play has been magical. He may not have been as impressive as Lehner but he is here in round two nonetheless. These are two teams that are similar in that they work hard and have goaltenders that they can insert as needed.

The Islanders are rested but could be rusty. The Hurricanes have just played a grueling seven-game series and could be fatigued. But, that is why they play the games.