Unhappy Hurricanes take 1-0 lead into Game 2 against satisfied Islanders

It may say something about the relative strengths and expectations of the teams involved that the Carolina Hurricanes spent Sunday figuring out how they can play better and the New York Islanders spent their day off after Game 1 feeling pretty good about their performance and wondering how it was they lost.

Or that may just be the nature of the postseason. Because in every other way, things settled pretty quickly into the normal rhythm of a playoff series in the wake of the Hurricanes’ 3-1 win Saturday night.

The Islanders, like almost every opening-game loser will, talked about getting more traffic in front of Frederik Andersen, more shots to the net. The Hurricanes talked about playing the way they did in the third period and not the first two, the opening few minutes excepted.

“There’s not a ton negative, I don’t think,” Islanders forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group we felt pretty good about our game.”

“I don’t think we did a good enough job of what we are good at, to get to our game,” Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho said. “I felt like in the third period we got to it a little bit, and very early in the game as well. The second period, for example, was not good enough, obviously, but that’s playoff hockey. They’re a good team. They try to make it hard on us. We want to make it hard on them.”

There was also a fascinating, and baffling, narrative swirling around the Islanders that the Hurricanes were somehow diving to draw penalties — a curious accusation given that the Islanders’ first penalty would have led to a breakaway chance if it had gone uncalled, the second was a black-letter-law puck over the glass and the third was a slash behind the play. But these are the kind of things that happen in the wake of a playoff loss, and over the course of a series.

The Islanders didn’t practice, preferring to stay at their hotel and skate before Monday night’s Game 2. The Hurricanes did practice Sunday at PNC Arena, which means their players can stay home Monday morning. These are normal home-road choices in the modern NHL, often independent of results, and the teams will likely do the opposite between Games 3 and 4 on Long Island.

And so on. There’s a feeling-out process in every series, which sometimes takes only seconds and sometimes can take a few games, and in this series took about 40 minutes. The Hurricanes had a strong opening flurry, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov’s quick power-play snipe, but let the Islanders dictate play through the second intermission.

Even the building, loud as it ever is to start, seemed to sag a bit as the Islanders bogged things down and blocked shot after shot after shot through two periods. Which is not a criticism of the fans but a credit to the Islanders, who arrived fully pegged to postseason intensity after fighting their way into the playoffs, while the Hurricanes, despite their best intentions, needed some time to get fully ramped up.

“We didn’t give them much to cheer for, to be honest,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. “We weren’t very good. We didn’t have any pounding shifts or big plays. Or really any shots.”

They got there in the third, starting with Andersen’s scrambling save on Noah Dobson followed quickly by Stefan Noesen’s game-winning goal — officially, from 6 feet out, Noesen’s usual range. Brind’Amour’s intermission decision to move a fired-up Andrei Svechnikov to the top line with Aho and Jake Guentzel didn’t hurt, either.

“They’re still going to block shots,” Aho said. “They’re going to do a good job at it. We just have to keep hammering. That’s what happened in the third period. We get one through and (Noesen) puts it in, and that’s the game.”

In the end, the Hurricanes could take solace in the way they finished the game, and the Islanders could take only frustration from the way they finished their chances.

“I will say this,” Islanders coach Patrick Roy said. “We had a day and a half to prepare for that game and there’s points that you think are more important than others. Now that we went over those, there are other new ones we’re going to look at and adjustments that need to be made. One of them might be to look at their goalie closely and see what we can do to score.”

So as the Islanders strategize ways to beat Andersen, the Hurricanes don’t need to crack any codes. They just need to pick up where they left off Saturday.

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