Sports

Canes fight through injuries for 2-1 playoff win over Islanders

Curtis McElhinney recently picked up a new book to read, David Goggins’ “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds.”

It’s about having self-discipline and mental toughness, and, yes, being able to beat the odds. It also says a lot about what happened Sunday to McElhinney as the Carolina Hurricanes topped the New York Islanders 2-1 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

McElhinney helped the Hurricanes reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009 but had not played in a playoff game. Petr Mrazek was the hot goalie late in the regular season and the choice as the starter for each of the first nine postseason games, shutting out the Islanders 1-0 in Game 1. McElhinney could only sit.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal (11 and Teuvo Teravainen (86) embrace Nino Niederreiter (21) after he scored the game-winning goal on New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner (40) in the third period during Game 2 of the second round Stanley Cup series on Sunday, April 28, 2019 a Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Hurricanes defeated the Islanders 2-1. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

But at 6:27 of the second period Sunday, Mrazek skated to the bench, laboring, injured. He soon was headed down the tunnel to the Canes’ locker room, slamming his paddle in frustration.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter (21) scores the game-winning goal on New York Islander goalie New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner (40) in the third period during Game 2 of the second round Stanley Cup series on Sunday, April 28, 2019 a Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Hurricanes defeated the Islanders 2-1. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Just like that, it was McElhinney’s net for the first time in 22 days. In the playoffs. With the Canes trailing 1-0 in the game at Barclays Center.

The Canes had lost defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk on the first shift of the game after a crunching blow from Cal Clutterbuck along the boards that had van Riemsdyk clutching a shoulder. Now, Mrazek.

“I was looking at Petr and figured I was going in there at that point,” McElhinney said. “He just looked a little off and was shaking his one leg. He wasn’t right.

“You just grab your helmet and go.”

The game soon would turn. With McElhinney stopping all 17 shots he faced, calm and poised in net, the Canes regrouped and moved on.

“He was ready to rock and roll,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour. “We just gutted it out.”

Warren Foegele scored 17 seconds into the third period, ripping a shot from the right circle past goalie Robin Lehner for his fifth goal of the playoffs. Forty-eight seconds later, Nino Niederreiter scored, going to the front of the net and getting a piece of a Teuvo Teravainen shot.

“We didn’t feel that good today but we just grind it out and we found a way to get a couple,” Teravainen said.

“It was great to see (McElhinney) play great after we lost Petr. It’s tough to see two of those guys (injured), but after that some guys had to step up more and we wanted to win even for them. It’s been a tough playoffs for losing guys.”

Brind’Amour said van Riemsdyk is “definitely not coming back anytime soon.” He did not have any further update on Mrazek but he said “hoped” the injury was not too serious. Forward Saku Maenalanen also left in the third period with an upper-body injury.

The playoffs are about being able to handle attrition as the hits and injuries build up, and the body count is building.

The Canes lost forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland in Game 3 of the first-round series against the Washington Capitals -- Svechnikov suffering a concussion in a fight with Alex Ovechkin.

Jordan Martinook went out with a lower-body injury against the Caps but returned later in the series to gamely play. But he was missed the first two games of the Islanders series, going through warmups Sunday but then unable to go.

The Islanders scored their first goal of the series on a first-period power play. Mathew Barzal’s pass in front of the crease was inadvertently tipped by Canes defenseman Jaccob Slavin trying to make a play.

The Isles had other quality scoring chances. In the third, Jordan Eberle hit the crossbar, the puck dropping behind McElhinney. But Canes captain Justin Williams got his stick on the puck, knocking it out of the crease, then blocked an Anders Lee shot with his skate.

It was a gritty win. The Canes got it despite an ineffective power play -- they had 1:26 of a 5-on-3 in the second. They did it despite the injuries. They headed back to Raleigh with a 2-0 series lead.

“This group just battles for each other,” Foegele said. “It’s been like a family. When somebody goes down, you have to pick up your brother and you’re going to get a win for him.”

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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