- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Washington Capitals fans might still be stewing over their first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of an opponent many considered inferior. But the Carolina Hurricanes have gotten so hot, they’ve become the betting favorites to lift the Stanley Cup.

Of the eight teams still standing, the Hurricanes were the only side to take a 2-0 series lead in the conference semifinals. They did so on the road against the New York Islanders, and the series resumes in North Carolina Wednesday night.

As a result, SuperBookUSA bumped the Hurricanes up to 4-to-1 favorites to win the title. The daily fantasy site FanDuel also runs a sportsbook and lists Carolina as co-favorites with the St. Louis Blues, tied at +430 as of Tuesday morning.

With four straight wins dating back to the Washington series, the Hurricanes are finding success beating their opponents at what they do best. In taking Games 6 and 7 from the Capitals, Carolina outlasted Alex Ovechkin and company to win higher-scoring affairs.

But in the Hurricanes‘ first two games against New York — the best defensive team in the regular season — they squeaked out 1-0 and 2-1 wins, the former coming in overtime. While Islanders goalie Robin Lehner continues to lead the NHL with a .952 save percentage this postseason, it hasn’t been enough because Carolina has mostly kept their goal-scorers out of the net.

Now the series returns to PNC Arena, a building noted for its playoff atmosphere, though it was not nearly an intimidating barn to visit during the regular season. That marks something else the Islanders have lost between rounds one and two: They got to host the Penguins at the raucous Nassau Coliseum, but now must play the remainder of their postseason run at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which is harder for fans on the Island to travel to and was not built with hockey in mind.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz is still in the mix to win back-to-back Stanley Cups after leading the Capitals to the promised land last year. Trotz told reporters his team did not encounter any adversity in their clean sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one.

“I said there’s an unseen hand or something will come up that will test you a little bit. It’s how you respond,” Trotz said. “I said to them, ‘Hey, we’re going to Carolina to win two games. Plain and simple.’”

While the coach’s conviction might motivate his team, the “unseen hand” comment likely triggers memories of his “Trotzisms” while coaching the Capitals to the 2018 Stanley Cup, with his frequent references to the “hockey gods.”

But in fairness, never has the importance of puck luck been demonstrated better than this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, in which all four division winners, both teams from last year’s Final and the almighty Penguins were all knocked out in the first round.

“You gotta get lucky. I think anybody that tells you differently hasn’t won before,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said last week. “You need a lot of luck on your side. Both in terms of how games go and also health.”

At this critical juncture of the postseason, perhaps the Hurricanes, of all teams, are the team with the most luck on their side. But the Islanders still have time for the hockey gods to intervene.

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