4 Takeaways From Islanders 2-1 Game 1 Loss vs Hurricanes

The New York Islanders played a hard-fought, defensive battle in Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, despite plenty of opportunities to take control, they ended up on the losing end of a 2-1 game. It played out the way many expected it would with two teams that win with their defense making the game a low-scoring one. However, this game came down to the few mistakes that the Islanders made and the Hurricanes took advantage of.

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With the 2-1 defeat, the Islanders trail in the series. The loss revealed some of the weaknesses that can be their undoing against the Hurricanes, who can exploit any team’s issues. However, the loss also showed that the Islanders with some improvements can steal a game on the road and take control of this series.

Islanders’ Special Teams Cost Them

The Islanders’ power play has been a liability all season. The unit scored on only 15.77% of its opportunities in the regular season and improvement would be necessary for a series victory. The hope was that Mathew Barzal’s return would help out the power play as the team would have a playmaking forward back in their lineup. The Islanders created a few scoring chances on their first power play but otherwise looked hapless, failing to score in all four of their opportunities.

Related: 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Hurricanes vs Islanders Series Preview

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At the other end of the ice, the penalties were the Islanders’ undoing. The first two they took resulted in the Hurricanes’ only two goals of the game and ultimately made the difference in the 2-1 defeat. To make matters worse, the Hurricanes beat the Islanders on the power play in the two ways they’ve beaten them all season. The first goal came on a one-timer and a quick shot by Sebastian Aho courtesy of a Brent Burns cross-ice pass. The second power play goal came on a scorching shot from the point by Burns that zipped through traffic and was deflected by Stephan Noesen into the back of the net.

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes battles Sebastian Aho #25 of the New York Islanders during the third period in Game One of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Islanders outplayed the Hurricanes for the majority of the game and outscored them in even-strength play. Special teams made all the difference. In the playoffs, the few mistakes in a game are amplified and become more consequential. Both teams took four penalties in Game 1 but the Hurricanes took advantage of their opportunities while the Islanders fell flat.

Sorokin Keeps the Game Close

Ilya Sorokin proved in Game 1 why he is the best player in this series and who will keep the Islanders competitive in every game. The Hurricanes were firing on all cylinders and creating plenty of scoring chances, especially early in the game. However, Sorokin looked sharp from the opening puck drop and put together a remarkable performance, giving the Islanders a chance to complete the comeback and win the game.

Ilya Sorokin New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He saved 35 of the 37 shots he faced and made multiple big saves. The Hurricanes looked poised to pull away with a decisive victory but instead, they escaped with a 2-1 win with their only goals coming on the man advantage. Sorokin all but put together a flawless night in the net with the Hurricanes’ two goals coming on quick puck movement and a shot through traffic.

In a series that will feature plenty of goaltending duels, Sorokin can steal a few games and possibly take over the series. He put together a Vezina Trophy-caliber season and in the playoffs, he’s playing at another level, forcing the Hurricanes to work for their goals. The Hurricanes proved in Game 1 that they have the better team but they don’t have the better goaltender and it can become the difference maker in the long run in this series.

Hurricanes’ Defense Closed Out Game

The Islanders took back the momentum of the game with their goal in the second period. They pressured the Hurricanes and looked to tie the game and possibly win it. For the final 30 minutes, the Islanders created plenty of scoring chances with effective puck movement but the Hurricanes’ defensive unit stepped up and closed out this game. Their defense has been great all season, allowing only 2.56 goals per game, and in Game 1 they showed why it is elite and can carry them to the Stanley Cup.

Jaccob Slavin was gap-sound and limited the Islanders from finding shooting lanes or scoring chances. With a team-leading 23:25 ice time and four blocked shots, he was the best player on the Hurricanes in the defensive zone in Game 1. Burns, who led the unit with two points, also stepped up in the defensive zone, clearing the puck and starting up rushes with outlet passes. He was acquired in the offseason for games like these with his skillset and experience being impactful in a defensive battle.

Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Additionally, Antti Raanta, who wasn’t the confirmed starting goaltender until game day, stepped up in the net and sealed the victory. He made 25 saves and multiple big stops in the final few minutes, including a pivotal save on a Brock Nelson shot in the final minute of regulation to secure the 2-1 win. It was a question mark whether he would be the Hurricanes’ goaltender for the First Round but after his Game 1 performance, it looks like he’ll remain the starter moving forward.

Brock Nelson New York Islanders
Brock Nelson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders entered this series knowing the Hurricanes’ defense would be tough to score against. Likewise, they knew that they couldn’t afford to fall behind against a defensive unit that specializes in closing out one-goal games. The Islanders made the game close but this series can end quickly if they keep falling behind and playing into their opponent’s strength.

To Win Series, Islanders Can’t Chase the Game

In the first period, the ice was tilted. The Islanders were overwhelmed by the Hurricanes’ speed, puck movement, and ability to win possession. They never settled into their game and were playing early on with their hair on fire, allowing their opponent to slowly take control.

The Islanders were outshot 37-26. In a series where they have the goaltending advantage, a key to success will be keeping the puck in the offensive zone and winning the shot battle. They failed in both categories. Instead, they allowed the Hurricanes to impose their will and by the time the Islanders found their footing, they were trailing 2-0.

The Islanders eventually scored to make it a one-goal game and gain momentum but at that point, they were chasing the game. They played the final 30 minutes with a sense of urgency and an aggressive style that prevented them from creating effective shots on the net. The Islanders were out of their comfort zone and playing into the Hurricanes’ hands.

In the remaining games of the series, the Islanders need to slow the game down. More importantly, they can’t afford to play from behind. They made Game 1 close but this series can get out of hand quickly if they continue to play outside their comfort zone and allow the Hurricanes to set the tone.

Other Takeaways From Islanders’ Game 1 Loss

  • Ryan Pulock scored the Islanders’ only goal but also put together a great game in his own zone. In 22:44 ice time, he blocked two shots and registered a team-leading nine hits. His only mistake was taking a slashing penalty in the second period that allowed the Hurricanes to score their second goal of the game.
  • Barzal looked rusty in his return to the lineup. After missing the second half of the season with a lower-body injury, he returned for Game 1, and playing on the top line, he only had two shots on goal and was a non-factor in the loss. If the Islanders are going to be competitive in this series, they can’t afford to have one of their best skaters playing a step behind everyone else.

What’s Next for the Islanders

The Islanders will play Game 2 on Wednesday, April 19. After losing Game 1, they will need to step up in the upcoming game to avoid falling behind 2-0 in the series and adjustments will have to be made based on how they played in the 2-1 defeat.

Game 1 showed that the Islanders can go toe to toe with the Hurricanes. They lost the game but outplayed them and with fewer mistakes, could have come away with a victory. It’s going to be a low-scoring series but one that the Islanders can win, especially if Sorokin and their defense continue to play at a high level.