The Carolina Hurricanes knew they had what was essentially a do or die game for them as they came into the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night for their final match-up with the Islanders this season.
By the time the game was over, everyone saw why this is a team that is very much still in this playoff race.
Despite the Islanders getting a 2-1 lead and then proceeding to control the play for a good chunk after that, the Hurricanes did not back down and would score three unanswered goals in the third period on their way to a 4-2 win.
Every Rangers fan was rooting for the Isles in this one, and for a decent portion of the game they were getting exactly what they wanted. However, things would quickly fall apart for them. After the Hurricanes won, the Sabres played a back and forth game with the Capitals, earning a point as they lost in overtime. The Toronto Maple Leafs also won as they defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-2.
The Rangers have a Sunday afternoon date with the Philadelphia Flyers, and they sit one point behind the 7th place Sabres and one point ahead of 9th place Carolina.
The Islanders, meanwhile, put up a good fight against another team that has been playing some really strong hockey of late. The same individuals who have been carrying the Canes were at their top of their games - guys like Eric Staal and Erik Cole.
Jesse Joensuu was one of the top Isles forwards. I feel this was clearly one of the better games I've seen him play. Earlier this season, I felt he was playing well but I was clearly in the minority when the Islanders sent him down shortly after that. I think there is still a decent amount of untapped potential when it comes to Joensuu, and so far he is off to a good start when it comes to making a last gasp impression to the coaching staff and management. He got almost 16 minutes of ice time Saturday night, and given what he did with it, will continue to log significant minutes in the final three games.
I was disappointed with the way that Josh Bailey played. He only got 14 minutes of ice time, and to me was rather invisible. As he gets slightly less ice time and more is given to guys like Joensuu, especially with players like Frans Nielsen now missing time, one has to wonder about his future. He will be an RFA this summer, and hasn't done a ton to warrant a huge pay raise. It'll be interesting to see how that all plays out.
The Isles had to patch together a defense, but I felt they played pretty well. Dylan Reese in the past two games has looked the way he did for a majority of the games to end last season. Mark Katic has looked good to me considering his size and what he is. With the Isles on a 6-on-4 advantage, Katic did fumble the puck that led to the Staal empty net goal, and that is one play you can definitely chalk up to inexperience. But aside from that, I thought he looked steady, picked his spots as far as when to jump into the play and was very strong positionally.
Meanwhile, Ty Wishart and Jack Hillen both returned after suffering injuries against the Rangers and got very limited ice time. That gave both Katic and Reese the opportunity to log 20+ minutes, and they did quite well with it. I would imagine now with a few days off Hillen, Wishart, Bruno Gervais and Milan Jurcina will have plenty of time to rest up. I'm not really anticipating many of those guys to practice these next few days.
Al Montoya wasn't really tested with anything incredibly tough. The Carolina goals were from some tips in front, particularly Cole's goal. That's one instance where the defenseman has to do a better job there, especially on someone who has made a career out of scoring big goals in front like that. But Montoya made most of the saves that he should have and doesn't really get much blame in this one.
In a way, this was like the tale of two games. For most of the third period, the Canes wanted it more and you could feel their desperation and their pressure. At that rate, you knew it was only a matter of time before they started to break through. There's a reason they are still in this race with so little time left.
The Isles have off until Wednesday when they go into Boston to take on the Bruins. That is going to be one tough game. But, the last time these teams met the Islanders stunned the Bruins and beat them 3-2 at the Coliseum. So, we can definitely say that stranger things have happened. But while the Isles have been on a good run since that point, the Bruins have as well.
NYI FYI SUNDAY: Just a friendly reminder that we will be on live tomorrow at 11 AM. You can tune in by watching us on our NYI FYI UStream page. There you can watch us in real time, as well as participate in the live chat. So be sure to come prepared with your comments or questions.
We have a good show planned for you guys as we'll discuss the team's play this week, the re-signing of Al Montoya, the PHWA boycotts in honor of Chris Botta and more. Remember - Sunday at 11 AM!