The Carolina Hurricanes are on the brink of another playoff series win.
The New York Islanders are on the brink of being swept, their season over.
In a game that was as much a test of will as skill, the Hurricanes turned back the Islanders 5-2 on Wednesday to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven second-round series.
Teuvo Teravainen scored twice, Justin Williams gave the Canes the go-ahead goal in the third period and goalie Curtis McElhinney, in his first career playoff start, had 28 saves.
Justin Faulk had a second-period score -- coming out of the penalty box, making a catch worthy of any Minnesota Twins outfielder -- and Sebastian Aho had a goal while assisting on the Williams goal after making the game’s most pivotal play. And defenseman Jaccob Slavin, perhaps a revelation to some NHL fans in the playoffs but not Canes fans, picked up another two assists and now has 12 in the postseason.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday at PNC Arena as the Canes look to finish off the Eastern Conference series.
“I’m going to say all the right things here,” Williams said. “We’re up 3-0, the last is the hardest, it always is. The other team’s backs are against the wall. We’re going to work our tails off to get it done.”
Williams’ goal at 10:15 of the third period gave the Canes 3-2 lead. It came after Isles goalie Robin Lehner tried to clear the puck from behind the net, only to have Aho bat it down, collect it and find an open Williams crashing the net.
“That was Sebastian doing Sebastian things,” Williams said. “That was probably my worst (scoring) chance of the night and that one wound up going in.”
The Canes locked it down after the Williams goal, clearing their zone, allowing few shots. When the Isles took Lehner out for a sixth attacker in the final 73 seconds, Tervainen and Aho tacked on empty-net goals to inflate the final score.
“We really took the game over after the third goal,” Williams said. “We kind of rode off the crowd momentum after that. This place is electric, definitely a home-ice advantage.”
It was 1-1 after the first period and 2-2 after the second in a punch/counterpunch kind of game as the two teams fought for the puck, fought for space. Teravainen and Faulk scored for the Canes, and Devon Toews and Josh Bailey for the Islanders.
Had the Canes’ power play been better, they could have had the lead heading into the third. But the power play has been problem for Carolina in the playoffs while the Toews goal came on an Islanders power play.
A lot of good had happened for the Canes since their last game in PNC Arena. There was Game 7 in the first-round series with the Washington Capitals and the double-overtime win. There were two wins to start the Islanders series, both at the Barclays Center in New York.
Back home, the Canes had rookie forward Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Martinook back in the lineup Wednesday. Svechnikov had not played since his big fight with the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin and concussion in Game 3 of that series, and Martinook could not go in the first two games of the Islanders series because of a lower-body injury.
McElhinney became the oldest goalie -- at 35 years, 343 days -- in NHL history to make his first career playoff start. McElhinney was one of the heroes in Game 2 against the Isles, taking over after Petr Mrazek left with an injury and stopping all 17 shots in the Canes’ 2-1 win.
It was a tight game throughout, keeping the PNC Arena crowd of 19,066 jumping out of the seats. Twice in the first two periods, the Canes took the lead. Twice, the Islanders quickly answered.
Twenty-two seconds after Teravainen’s goal at 6:41 of the first, a simple tap-in at the post, the Canes’ Warren Foegele was called for high-sticking on the forecheck. Toews then scored on a shot from the point.
In the second, Faulk first watched from the penalty box as the Canes killed off his hooking penalty. He then bolted out and was on the move, reaching up to grab a pass from Foegele at the blue line and then beating Lehner with a rising backhander -- for Faulk his first career playoff goal.
But the Isles kept their poise, kept working. When Foegele couldn’t corral the puck near the Carolina blue line, Bailey got off a quick shot from the slot that McElhinney couldn’t stop for a 2-2 game.
The Isles’ Brock Nelson, cruising by the net just after the score, patted McElhinney on the top of his mask -- kind of a “nice-try” tap. Not that it bothered McElhinney, who said it helped him swiftly regain his focus.
“I was kicking myself afterwards, so good on them for doing that,” he said.
McElhinney made his share of sharp saves, once doing a split and jutting out his left skate to stop Nick Leddy.
“That’s been the series. It’s been a break, a missed opportunity, and lo and behold, you’re sitting in a big hole,” Isles coach Barry Trotz said.