Canes ride six-game win streak into NHL Eastern Conference finals

Carolina sweeps Islanders with 5-2 win in Game 4

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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R.L. Bynum, Correspondent

@RL_Bynum

RALEIGH, N.C. — When the Carolina Hurricanes won only six games in each of the season’s first two months (and four in December), you never would have expected them to ride a season-high six-game win streak into the Eastern Conference finals.

Since then, they have become a “bunch of jerks” with a purpose.

They showed it again, bringing down the hammer with two of three second-period goals coming 66 seconds apart as they rolled to a 5-2 victory Friday over the New York Islanders with some of the most physical play of the series.

That finished off the first four-game sweep in franchise history before an arena-record hockey crowd of 19,495.

R.L. Bynum, Triangle Sports Network

“It’s so exciting,” said Teuvo Teravainen, who notched a goal and an assist.

“Christmastime, we were at the bottom of the list, and now we’re here. So, it’s just amazing to think about it. At that time, we did a great job of grinding every night to get some wins. And we got to the point where we made the playoff line, and our game got better and better and we got better as a group.”

We’re going streaking

Carolina had two five-game regular-season win streaks.

The first started on New Year’s Eve and set up their torrid 2019 play.

As the Isles begin to set tee times, the Canes await their Eastern Conference finals opponent.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins are tied at 2 games each headed to Game 5 on Saturday night.

If Columbus prevails, the Canes will have home-ice advantage.

You have to believe

Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina’s rookie coach, said that his players maintaining belief in his system during those struggles late in 2018 is the reason why they are four wins away from the Stanley Cup finals.

The doubts could have started when they lost the season opener at home 2-1 in overtime to the Islanders, despite outshooting New York 46-20.

He bemoaned that the sense in that postgame press conference was that it was the same old team.

“You’re not watching the game,” Brind’Amour said, remembering his reaction to that negativity.

“We are way different, and you can see the way we play.

“We went 20 some odd games and it didn’t work,” he said.

“The record wasn’t there, but the guys believed that the style of play we were trying to establish was working, and it would work. To me, that was the turning point. Not deviating. They believed in what we were trying to accomplish and we’re still here. Part of it was looking at ourselves and where we wanted to be. Part of it is you have to raise the bar.”

Working hard and pushing

Curtis McElhinney, who came on in relief to win Game 2 and started and won Game 3, was sterling again in Game 4.

A backup, perhaps, but he certainly didn’t play like it in making 26 stops.

He said he could see when he joined the team in October that there were high goals.

“I think they were excited going into the regular season, and I was fortunate to just jump on board and be part of it. It just seems like we keep coming,” McElhinney said.

Carolina becomes only the third team since 1982 to make the conference finals in four consecutive playoff appearances (Detroit 1995-98 and Colorado 1999-2002).

You might be able to question the talent level on the team, but you can’t question the players’ resolve.

“We’re not trying to get too greedy out there, and that’s big for us,” said Justin Faulk, who had two assists and seven hits to lead the Canes’ physical effort.

“We know we maybe don’t have the most skill in the league. That doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to go out there and work our ass off.”

Justin Williams, whose goal was his 100th career playoff point, has been through all of this many time before.

He said it was all about altering the outlook of the Islanders.

“Giving them doubt is the key to winning a series, whatever that may be,” he said.

“We pushed, and we pushed and we pushed and we got a couple of goals and a good lead and that’s how you win a series. You tell a team it’s too hard for them. And it was.”

The teams traded power-play goals early, both with close shots going in, both off an Islander’s stick.

Quick reaction time

First, Mathew Barzal slipped one in front of McElhinney for an Islanders goal 2:30 into the game. Then, 2;14 later, a Sebastian Aho wrister from the right of the net went off the stick of Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech and in to tie it.

“We knew they were going to come, and they did,” Brind’Amour said.

“I think the turning point for me was we actually responded right away after giving up the first one. That’s just, OK, settle down. We had a good push and that was enough.”

Aho’s goal ended an 0-for-21 power play skid for the Canes, their first power play goal since Game 3 of the Washington Capitals series.

“In the second period, we kind of took over,” Aho said.

“We pushed back, and we got the momentum.”

The Canes took control with two goals in 66 seconds early in the second period that ended the season for Islanders goalie Robin Lehner.

Quick passing set up the first one.

It went from Aho behind the goal to Warren Foegele on the left circle to Teravainen just to the right of the goal.

He fired in a wrister at 2:11 into the period.

Putting it away

Greg McKegg made it 3-1 on a rebound off of a Brett Pesce shot and Lehner’s night was over.

When Williams batted a pass from Jordan Staal past backup goalie Thomas Greiss 5½ minutes later, the rout was on and the brooms were being prepared.

“We smelled blood, absolutely,” Williams said of the Canes’ strong second period.

“I think the fans smelled it even more than we did tonight. It was raucous. I don’t know if I could compare it to the Stanley Cup finals but it’s darn near close.”

Canes rookie Andrei Svechnikov, who found a post in Game 3, had a great chance stopped by Lehner’s blocker late in the first period and a breakaway chance in the second.

He finally was rewarded late in the third period with a driving shot for a goal.

Rest and recuperation

Now, the Hurricanes will get a needed break to heal up since the Eastern Conference finals don’t figure to start at the earliest until late next week.

“I’m just so proud of these guys, I can’t even tell you,” Brind’Amour said.

“They just grind. It wasn’t pretty. But I think a break is what they need more, almost mentally. They need a little rest. Will it affect us in our first game? There may be a little rust there, but I think we need it.”

He has hoisted the Stanley Cup before and isn’t at all satisfied with just making the Eastern Conference finals.

“It’s not good enough to make the playoffs,” he said.

“Who cares? That’s not the goal. That’s not the finish line.”

They’ve won six in a row. The finish line is eight wins away.

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