Unlikely hero Stastny on delivering clincher for Canes: 'I'm having fun'

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Paul Stastny's goal at 6:01 of overtime gave the Carolina Hurricanes a 2-1 win in Game 6 and eliminated the New York Islanders on Friday night.

The veteran forward fired the puck from a bad angle on the right side of goalie Ilya Sorokin and snuck it through, hitting Sorokin's skate to bounce the puck in.

For the 37-year-old Stastny, the series offered the chance to play the unlikely hero for the Hurricanes. A former top-line player in his prime NHL years, he signed a one-year free agent contract as a depth forward for Carolina, averaging his lowest career average ice time (11:52) in 73 games in the regular season. But with Carolina missing three key injured offensive players in Andrei Svechnikov, Max Pacioretty and Teuvo Teravainen, Stastny stepped up with three goals in the series win, including the overtime game winner to eliminate them.

"You play this long in your career, you sign with a team like this, you know your role is going to change," Stastny said after the win. "Some days are tougher than others. But I'm playing in the National Hockey League. I'm having fun. I'm playing with a bunch of good guys and we have chance to win."

Coach Rod Brind'Amour praised Stastny's professionalism.

"We probably don't talk about it much because we don't really talk about him," the coach said. "It's really his first year where I think he's been put in this role. And he couldn't have had a better attitude."

The Hurricanes also won Game 2 in overtime.

Overall, the series had seen more goals from these defensively oriented teams than expected. But Game 6 was a goaltending clinic played in the trenches.

Frederik Andersen started his first game since April 13 after dealing with an illness, after Antti Raanta started the first five games of the series. He was strong in making 35 saves. Islanders goalie Sorokin confidently scrambled to handle the Canes' chaos around his crease, making 39 saves in defeat.

The Islanders took a 1-0 lead at 9:21 of the first period. A bad change by the Hurricanes left Cal Clutterbuck wide open on the right wing, who beat Andersen cleanly for his first goal of the playoffs.

After that, it was a goaltending duel, as Sorokin and Andersen stopped everything coming their way. Brind'Amour admitted there were times he was worried Sorokin would be unbeatable in Game 6.

"The good news was it was just one [goal], right? If another one had squeaked in ... if Freddie didn't shut the door, then that's tough. [Sorokin] was great. He's been great all year. But we were able to squeak one by him," the coach said.

It took a fortunate bounce and a fantastic solo effort from Sebastian Aho in the third period to finally get one behind Sorokin.

The Hurricanes center skated the puck into the attacking zone to start the play. After the Islanders' Brock Nelson failed to curtail the puck, Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce recovered it and flipped it towards the net. Aho knocked the puck out of the air with his glove and then quickly tucked the puck into the net on the backhand at 9:24 of the third.

It was Aho's fourth goal of the series.

"One-goal leads in the playoffs are just not safe," Islanders forward Mathew Barzal said. "To get that second one gives everybody a little breathing room. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it tonight."

The Hurricanes outshot the Islanders 19-5 in the third period. Barzal said his team didn't play "prevent defense" on purpose in the third.

"Sometimes when you're just trying to hold on, it doesn't work well. I think the first two periods we were playing aggressive. In the third period, we kind of sat back and just wanted to kind of clog it up and make it hard," Barzal said. "It's hard to flip that switch mentally when you're up one and you don't want to make a mistake. It's not a conscience decision."

The series win marked the fifth straight postseason under Brind'Amour that the Hurricanes won at least one playoff round, including their qualification round win during the 2020 pandemic season.

For the Islanders, it was a brief return to the playoffs after missing out last season. They made a big trade deadline splash by acquiring center Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks, signing him to an eight-year extension.

Horvat finished the series with a goal and an assist in six games.

"I'm proud to be a New York Islander," he said. "I hold myself a bit accountable. You want to produce. I would have liked to have been on the scoresheet a little bit more. It just wasn't the case."