At the start of the season, the Hurricanes were seen as the beast of the East, but while they did end up being one of the best teams in the league, injuries to two of their stop stars has slowed the hype train down. As a result, this is a series that is a lot closer than it should be. To get a sense of each team's strengths and weaknesses, let's take a closer look at their respective statistics and compare them head-to-head.
Here's a tale of the tape for the upcoming series:
The Islanders are as mediocre as they’ve ever been, and they rely on their goaltender too much, but somehow, they’ve managed to be as good on offense as the Hurricanes this season and that’s why they’re not a bigger underdog. DraftKings Sportsbook currently lists the Hurricanes as a -205 series favorite. The Islanders are priced at +165.
Can the Hurricanes score enough goals?
Immediately, it’s easy to see that Carolina has been the superior team year-to-date. The Hurricanes rank first in expected goals for, shot attempts, expected goals against, and shot attempts against and third in goals against. Goal scoring is a weakness, though, and it’s gotten even worse since the team lost Andrei Svechnikov to a season-ending injury in early March. Max Pacioretty was supposed to be Carolina’s answer on offense, but thanks to bad injury luck, he only suited up for five games and it doesn’t look like he will return to the lineup this postseason.
Since the injury to Svechnikov, the Hurricanes rank 24th on offense (all situations) and have just been able to breakeven with a 50 percent goal share and a sub-500 win percentage without him in the lineup. The Hurricanes still have some star players, and if Pacioretty can return at some point in the playoffs it will be huge, but it shouldn’t be easy to get past the Islanders and their elite goaltender.
Can Ilya Sorokin steal the series for the Islanders?
The short answer is yes. Ilya Sorokin is the main reason that the Islanders stand a chance against the Hurricanes. Sorokin led the league in goals saved above expected and no goaltender has earned more shutout victories than Sorokin over the past three seasons. He’s been everything the Islanders hoped he would be, but he’s likely the right goaltender at the wrong time. Replace Semyon Varlamov with the 2022-23 version of Sorokin and the Islanders might have won a Stanley Cup a few years back. Now, a Stanley Cup seems like an unreasonable goal for a team that had only made into the playoffs because another team dropped the ball. Sorokin can steal a series, though, and given that Carolina has been struggling on offense, it could be this series.
Will Mat Barzal return to the Islanders lineup?
Islanders forward Mat Barzal missed the final 23 games of the regular season but he’s reportedly on track to return for Game 1 of the team’s first round series versus the Hurricanes. Barzal was on the top line with Bo Horvat and Anders Lee when he returned to practice and that line could potentially give the Hurricanes a lot of trouble. Carolina will almost certainly control the puck more than the Islanders in the series, but if that line can tilt the ice in the Islanders direction, it will make a big difference.
Who will win the series?
There are many ways a best-of-seven series can play out and it’s important to consider the entire range of possibilities when making series predictions. I calculate the probability of each team winning in four, five, six, or seven games and then use those predictions to price series prop markets such as the series winner, series spread, correct score, and total games. Here are my predictions:
Series Probabilities: New York Islanders
Series Probabilities: Carolina Hurricanes
New York lucked out by avoiding a first-round matchup with the Boston Bruins, and – by my estimation – their chances of advancing to the next round swung by almost 20 percent. The Hurricanes are a strong team, but their lack of offensive punch is concerning, especially considering that they’re going to be facing off against one of the best goaltenders in the league. I’m much closer to betting on the Islanders to win the series than I am to betting on the Hurricanes, but +165 doesn’t offer enough value because I believe a fair price is around -162/+162 in favor of Carolina. Playoff series prices can vary and a lot, though, so use these probabilities to find good bets at whichever sportsbooks you use.