RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Nobody can say the New York Islanders backed into the playoffs this year.
Mariusz Czerkawski and Adrian Aucoin each scored twice to help the Islanders clinch their third straight playoff appearance with a 6-4 victory Friday night over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Islanders slumped toward the end of last season, and clinched eighth place when the New York Rangers fell apart even worse down the stretch. The Islanders' struggles led to the firing of coach Peter Laviolette, now the Hurricanes' coach, after their first-round playoff exit.
``I'm happy, but more important I'm happy for the 24 guys in that room,'' said Steve Stirling, who replaced Laviolette last spring. ``They didn't need to hear from anybody that they backed in, or didn't get in. They needed to win their way in and they did.''
The Islanders ran up a 6-1 lead going into the third, and the hapless Hurricanes contributed bad play and bad luck, with a potential tying goal waved off, a fruitless penalty shot and four failed efforts by the NHL's worst power play.
``We just didn't execute,'' Laviolette said. ``We didn't keep them contained, we got beat on the walls, we turned pucks over. Basically we got what we deserved.''
New York secured the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, eliminating Buffalo from the race. The Islanders are only one point behind Montreal for seventh place, with each team having one game remaining.
``We wanted to do it on our own _ not waiting for anybody else to do it. We wanted to control the game to the end,'' Czerkawski said.
The Islanders qualified for the playoffs in three straight years for the first time since a 14-year run from 1975-88. They were helped when Carolina had a goal waved off that would've tied it at 2.
New York quickly responded with four straight goals within a span of 7:27 to blow the game open.
``That was tough. That would have maybe changed the momentum. It went in their favor and they just jumped on it from there,'' Laviolette said.
Carolina enforcer Jesse Boulerice had two goals, but the Hurricanes were 0-for-4 on the power play and managed only one shot during a two-man advantage in the second period.
Rod Brind'Amour and Eric Staal scored in the third to bring Carolina within 6-4.
The Hurricanes thought they'd gotten even at 2 early in the second period, but the officials said the whistle blew before Josef Vasicek's shot went in.
``It was definitely the turning point in the game. We were right there with them at that point,'' Boulerice said. ``They got a couple of quick ones and that took the wind out of our sails.''
Carolina goalie Kevin Weekes was pulled after giving up five goals on 17 shots. Eric Cole fired wide on a penalty shot with 5:46 left.
The Islanders opened the scoring on the power play 11:57 in. Oleg Kvasha drew Weekes to the right side of the net, then Alexei Yashin passed through traffic to Czerkawski on the open left side to make it 1-0.
Aucoin made it 2-0 just a minute later, intercepting a bad Hurricanes pass near center ice and scoring off his rebound.
Carolina got on the board at 14:19 of the first as Boulerice scored against Rick DiPietro from just above the crease.
The Islanders put the game out of reach in the second. Czerkawski's second goal made it 3-1 two minutes in. Yashin and Trent Hunter added goals 44 seconds apart to send Weekes to the bench in favor of Arturs Irbe. Aucoin's second goal made it 6-1 at 14:12.
Boulerice made it 6-2 six minutes into the third, bouncing the puck off the shin of Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns and past DiPietro.
Cole's penalty shot could've pulled the Hurricanes within 6-4.