R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. — With a Game 7 increasingly unlikely in this series, Justin Williams went ahead and produced some playoff heroics in Game 3.
He came up with some magic a little earlier by positioning himself perfectly in front of the goal when he got a terrific Sebastian Aho setup pass from behind the goal.
Williams buried a quick wrister off Aho’s pass with 9:45 left to rocket in the game-winning goal as the Carolina Hurricanes beat the New York Islanders 5-2 Wednesday in Game 3 to take a commanding 3-0 second-round series lead.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 2, 2019
“Sebastian was doing his thing, chasing pucks and knocking them out the air, throwing it in front to me,” said Williams, who scored his second goal of these playoffs and the ninth playoff goal as a Hurricane.
“Listen, that was probably my worst chance of the night and that one ended up going in. I had a couple of good looks and that one went in, so it’s funny how that works. But it’s a big goal for us.”
Carolina added empty-net goals from Teuvo Teravainen and Aho to leave the team a win away from the Eastern Conference finals.
Williams has been through many playoff runs and, from experience, he knows winning in Game 4 at home on Friday will be a challenge.
“The last one is the hardest, it always is when the other team’s backs are against the wall, and we certainly don’t want to go back there,” Williams said of a return trip to Brooklyn for a Game 5.
“But if we have to, we will. But we’re going to work our tails off to hopefully get it done in four.”
Figuring out how to win
The methodical way that Carolina has managed to get this far is impressive.
Even with the Canes coming up empty on their last 23 power-play chances, they’ve figured out how to win.
Carolina hasn’t scored a power-play goal since Dougie Hamilton notched two in the Canes’ 5-0 victory over Washington in Game 3 of their first-round series.
In the early part of the game, New York seemed to get to most of the loose pucks and was able to create better chances.
That gradually started to change in the third period, and the Canes had their way with the Isles for most of the last 10 minutes of the game.
“I thought we were good all game and it looked more like our team throughout the game,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
“We had some mistakes and our goalie came up huge when he had to, but it felt more like what we were trying to do in the third.
Williams said that the Canes still aren’t playing their best hockey, but they are getting closer.
“Absolutely,” Williams said.
“We still got a ways to go. But we’re winning games, and that’s important. We’re finding ways to win when we’re not at our best, and I thought this one was a little bit better and we’re going to need our best effort if we’re going to win the series.”
Taking advantage of rest time
With extra rest between games, Carolina seemed to be in better condition and fighting harder in the third period.
“I think it was a little rest, and the fact that we rolled four lines tonight,” said Williams, who notched his 99th career playoff point in his 150th game.
“Roddy deployed everybody, and I think that obviously was a big key in the third period because everybody was fresh.”
You have to start wondering if this might be a team of destiny.
With three Stanley Cup titles to his credit, Williams might be an expert.
He definitely has some wisdom on the subject.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice,” he said.
“You don’t wait for it, you achieve it and we’re not waiting around to see what happens. We’re going to try to go get it.”
The Canes had brief leads in each of the first two periods.
Teravainen knocked a rebound into an open goal after Jaccob Slavin snapped a shot from the left side wide to the right.
The Canes got rewarded for consistent pressure 6:41 into the game.
Less than two minutes later, the Isles scored on the power play when Devon Toews was credited with a tipping in a slap shot by Josh Bailey that appeared to deflect off of Jordan Staal’s stick.
“It actually felt really good about the way we played even after we scored,” Brind’Amour said.
“It didn’t feel like there was ever a big chunk of the game where we were on our heels, which was nice to see.”
In the second period, Justin Faulk jumped out of the penalty box and gloved a high pass from Warren Foegele at the blue line.
He drove toward the net, went to the forehand, then backhanded the puck in from eight feet out to give the Canes another short-lived one-goal lead with 8:02 left in the second period.
A little more than two minutes later, Bailey’s slapshot from 33 feet out gave the Islanders their first goal of the series off of one of their own sticks.
Mac in the back
Carolina got stellar play from goalie Curtis McElhinney.
He stopped all eight third-period shots and 28 for the game as, at age 35, he became the oldest player in NHL history to start his first playoff game.
“I don’t feel surprised at all,” Williams said.
“It’s what he does. Am I extremely proud and giddy for him? Absolutely. Awesome for him. Such a great team guy.”
Andrei Svechnikov was back after missing the previous six games, but he quickly found his game in his return from concussion protocol.
Playing on the third line and on the power play, he showed some precision passing and power moves to the goal even though he didn’t get on the score sheet.
When the Canes finally held the lead for good after twice giving it up earlier, Williams said the loud crowd deserves an assist.
“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.”
Carolina is 4-0 in Raleigh playoff games, and a fifth win could give the Canes valuable rest to heal up for the next round.
Get your ears prepared for triple-digit decibels on Friday.
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