Underdog Hurricanes take big bite out of Islanders playoff hopes

Observations from press row and beyond

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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Peter Koutroumpis

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RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes’ path to the NHL Eastern Conference Final extended a fair distance following a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

The win put Carolina ahead 3-0 in the second-round series and in front of another standing-room crowd of 19,066 at PNC Arena – the loudest building in the league, particularly during playoff runs.

Though it has been 10 years since such noise levels have topped 110-plus decibels – at least that’s what the fancy videoboard meter showed – the crowd’s enthusiasm mirrored that of past eras.

Different team, same feel

After completing a first-round upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, it was prognosticated that the Hurricanes would have their hands full and their work cut out for them against a well-rested Islanders squad.

It was a fair assessment.

Especially since Carolina needed all seven games, including overtime in Game 7, to top the Caps.

Starting on the road in Brooklyn, a split of the opening two games against New York would have been ideal.

But taking away home-ice advantage from the Islanders entirely with 1-0 and 2-0 wins at Barclays Center and piling on another triumph in Raleigh can be considered short of incredible.

Captain Justin Williams always sings the praises of the team’s success at low octaves.

“To be honest, we were just thrown into the series – we didn’t have much to prepare, or much time to rest,” Williams said during Game 3s pregame presser.

“We needed to get refocused on the way we needed to play because we didn’t do that the first couple of games.”

While escaping New York, the Hurricanes “grinded out two wins” according to him.

Coming home wouldn’t provide much relaxation, but a supportive environment to keep pushing forward in the postseason.

“I’m a realist, and we haven’t played really well,” Williams said.

“I think that’s pretty prevalent, and tonight we need to show the Islanders what we’re all about. This is an important game for us, a statement game – obviously not put them away, but get close to the goal that we want. In front of our home crowd, we’re gonna be ready to go and we’re gonna show them what Carolina hockey is tonight.”

Stand up and shout

While yelling and cheering with fresh new towels in hand, the emotion from the stands was strong, but didn’t have the same 60-minute long intensity to it as during the Caps series.

Not a criticism, but an observation.

It was there during every save that 35-year-old goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney made in making NHL history as the oldest to make his first career playoff start as well as during every goal scored.

However, there were gaps where the fans were simply keen hockey spectators, viewing and taking in the back-and-forth of two teams puck chasing, battling for position and possession, and banging bodies.

It looked like a scene from a Canadian hockey market crowd.

No, not that. That’s not how we do it here.

So, as both teams jostled with 1-1 and 2-2 deadlocks, the roof finally blew off once Williams scored his second goal of the playoffs with the eventual game-winning goal.

For the final 10 minutes of the game, there was barely anyone sitting, save for those who needed to.

The towels were spinning like helicopters, the cheers and noise levels were up to Carolina Hurricanes fan standards for the postseason, and the team responded.

“It’s electric,” Williams said.

“After we scored our third goal, we really took the game over. Didn’t allow many opportunities whatsoever. That’s big, and we kind of rode off the crowd’s momentum after that. This place is electric. An extremely loud building and it’s definitely a home-ice advantage.”

A perspective from La Belle Province

The highest form of respect and compliment of the Hurricanes and their fan support came from visiting journalist Renaud Lavoie of TVA, broadcasting via SportsNet’s French-Canadian broadcast of the series.

When asked in a sidebar conversation what his audience’s impression of Carolina hockey was about, he put it this way.

“I’ve been lucky enough to do the first round with Columbus and Tampa – Game 3 and 4 in Columbus – which is a loud building,” Lavoie began.

“And after that I came right here (in Raleigh). This is the loudest building in the league.

“I think people are embracing (the underdog). You know those underdog teams, when you think about it, in Quebec, the thinking sometimes is, not that we love to be the underdogs, but it’s a small province and you feel like you need to prove yourself all the time. So, people really embrace those teams. Honestly, they’re in love with those teams like Columbus and Carolina.”

Maybe pulled pork and poutine could go together after all.

Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport