Hurricanes' depth proves critical to secure 2nd-round playoff matchup against the Rangers

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Carolina Hurricanes' Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) shoots a penalty shot puck past New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the first period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes are getting production throughout their lineup to start the NHL playoffs. They'll need it going forward if they're going to take down the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers.

The Hurricanes closed out the New York Islanders in a first-round series on Tuesday night. The win came with a healthy output from the supporting forwards behind top threats like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Seth Jarvis and Jake Guentzel in what became a recurring theme.

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By the end, third- or fourth-liners like trade-deadline acquisition Evgeny Kuznetsov, dirty-work finisher Stefan Noesen and first-time postseason goal scorer Jack Drury had at least three points in the five-game series.

“You have to have everybody contribute to win a series at some point,” coach Rod Brind'Amour said after Tuesday's 6-3 clinching win against the Islanders.

Kuznetsov, centering the fourth line, came through with two goals and two assists, including the series' first goal and then a wait-wait-wait penalty shot in Game 5 to beat Semyon Varlamov when he finally went for the pokecheck.

Noesen found the net three times, starting with the Game 1 winner when he grabbed a loose puck atop the crease and beat Varlamov early in the third period. His last came on a strange sequence, charging down the ice in the third on Tuesday to put away a loose puck that had taken a fluky bounce off the boards on a dump-in toward the corner.

And that one came eight seconds after the 24-year-old Drury had the go-ahead goal, marking the first of his career in the postseason. Drury, who also had assists in Games 1 and 2, centered the third line Tuesday after starting the series as a fourth-line winger.

The Hurricanes twice had two-goal leads in Game 5 and entered the final 20 minutes tied at 3-3 before the Drury-Noesen double changed everything, helping Carolina become the first team with at least one series win in six straight postseasons since Detroit did it from 1995-2000.

“I think experience probably plays a big factor in that," defenseman Brady Skjei said.

"That experience you rely on, and there’s not too much panic on the bench. We feel confident. And I think those years have really prepared us for this year.”

Last year’s run ended in a sweep against Florida in the Eastern Conference Finals, a series with four one-goal games and a combined five overtime periods as the Hurricanes struggled to convert chances.

Having Svechnikov back helps after he missed last year’s playoffs with a knee injury. He gives Carolina a hard-skating and physical forward who is a key part of its forecheck and had dominant stretches in the Islanders series. The hope for Carolina is taking last year’s core pieces and adding Svechnikov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov as a summer signing, and Guentzel and Kuznetsov as deadline pickups is enough to push deeper.

“Whenever you can acquire two guys that are playoff-proven and knowing they'll show up in big games, it's a boost for your team,” Jarvis said. “... And just overall having Svechie back in the lineup, I think that's what we missed a lot last year.”

Still, Carolina is battling its share of injuries after entering the postseason largely healthy compared to previous years with key pieces like Svechnikov or top goaltender Frederik Andersen (2022) sidelined.

Forward Jesper Fast is expected to miss the postseason with a neck injury, with president and general manager Don Waddell saying Wednesday it is a sprain requiring Fast to wear a neck brace for the next two weeks before being examined again.

The Hurricanes lost veteran defenseman Brett Pesce to a lower-body injury in Game 2, though Waddell said Pesce is out of a walking boot and should play at some point against the Rangers.

Then there were concerns about defenseman Tony DeAngelo — who was pressed into a larger role with Pesce's injury — after he exited late in the third period Tuesday after taking an uncalled slash to the arm from Pierre Engvall near the boards. But Waddell said the Hurricanes had avoided a major concern, with X-rays coming back clear and DeAngelo already feeling better.

The challenge only increases against the Rangers, who finished with a league-high 114 points in the regular season. Carolina was three points back and two behind the Dallas Stars, making this second-round series a matchup featuring two of the league's top three teams.

Carolina entered the playoffs as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup according to Bet MGM Sportsbook. This will be Carolina's first playoff series without having home-ice advantage since 2019, a run that excludes the 2020 Toronto bubble games due to the COVID-19 pandemic but includes the Rangers rout of the Hurricanes in Game 7 of a second-round series in Raleigh in 2022.

“We played good in spurts,” Brind'Amour said of closing out the Islanders. "We had one really good game from start to finish. Tonight was good for the most part but there was still parts where I'd like to be a little better. I think as you go along here, we talk about the Rangers, we're going to have to play better if we expect to win."


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