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The Islanders' Best Hope Against The Hurricanes Is A War Of Attrition

Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty)

A team playing its ninth game in 18 days on Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes, were struck by disaster in the very first minute of Game 2 against the Islanders. Carolina defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk got checked hard against the boards by New York’s Cal Clutterbuck, knocking him out for the whole game and, according to coach Rod Brind’Amour, a long while after that.

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The Hurricanes played over 90 minutes against the Caps on Wednesday, and then less than 48 hours after they went to overtime in Game 1 against the Islanders, they were down a defenseman. That meant that on Sunday, Brett Pesce had to play more than 24 minutes. Justin Faulk was out there for 26:30. Jaccob Slavin had 27:21 of ice time. Not only that, but their goalie, Petr Mrazek, who had dominated their last few games, went down halfway through Game 2 with what looked like a groin injury. He got replaced by Curtis McElhinney.

All this, and the Islanders couldn’t win the game. They outshot the Hurricanes 27-18 and basically outplayed them for 59 minutes, but two goals in 48 seconds at the beginning of the third was all Carolina needed to win 2-1 and take a 2-0 series lead heading back home.

Needless to say, the Islanders have to win Game 3. But fortunately for them, the weakened state of the Hurricanes might make that easier. Mrazek had been unsolvable in the series before he exited, with the only goal he allowed coming off his own defender’s stick. He’s not ruled out of Game 3 yet, but the likely starter is McElhinney, who’s 35 years old and has made just one start in the month of April. The veteran did get 17 saves in his relief appearance on Sunday, and his overall numbers are only a slight drop-off, but it’s Mrazek who’s helped carry the Canes to where they are now, and the shutout monster will not be missed by the Isles.

The Canes, who are already down Micheal Ferland for who knows how much longer, will probably get Andrei Svechnikov back from his concussion for Game 3 as Saku Maenalanen departs active duty with a hand injury. But with the van Riemsdyk knock leaving Dougie Hamilton without a partner, the 22-year-old Haydn Fleury should get the call to replace him. That’s also ideal for the Islanders, since Fleury only played 20 games this season, mustered just one point, and saw less than nine minutes of ice time in each of the three playoff games he’s cameoed in so far.

In the first two games of this series, the Islanders have become afflicted with the same goal-scoring illness that they usually give to their opponents. This team’s strength was not its offense at any point in the year, but in the past two games, their failure to get the puck off their own sticks and into the net has become almost supernatural. Typically, it’s the other team tying its brains into knots attempting to explain how the superficially untalented Islanders maintain such an impenetrable wall right in front of goal. But now, it’s New York looking for answers after missed opportunities, like when Anders Lee messed up this crucial last-minute chance:

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After that one stayed out, every Islander on the bench (except an apparently unfazed Clutterbuck) swung around to the TV monitor and asked themselves the same question: How are we supposed to get one in on these guys? 

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But with these injuries, the Canes have lost their continuity, and those forced changes are the best hope the Islanders have for getting this series back to even. Whatever the official Carolina lineup looks like for Game 3, it’s all but guaranteed to have different names than the one that started Games 1 and 2. And for the Islanders, any potential change from those losses could be a life preserver.

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