The Islanders are going to the playoffs.
John Tavares’ goal with a minute left forced overtime, giving the Islanders a point in the standings in a 4-3 shootout loss Tuesday to the Carolina Hurricanes. The late goal marked the third time the Islanders battled from behind to tie the game, after doing so once in each of the first two periods as well.
Minutes after Riley Nash’s game-deciding goal in the shootout snapped the Islanders three-game winning streak, the Washington Capitals beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 in regulation, officially securing a playoff berth for the Islanders for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“Our guys have battled hard and they deserve it,” Capuano said of the franchise’s first trip to the postseason since 2007. “Most importantly, our fans deserve it. They’re passionate. They’ve been with us. They haven’t seen playoff hockey in a while. I’m proud of what the guys accomplished.”
Alexander Semin struck first for Carolina in the opening minutes. During a 3-on-2 attack, Semin tried passing to a teammate across the slot from the right wing, but the puck went off an Islander defenseman and between Evgeni Nabokov’s legs to make it 1-0.
But two minutes later, Brad Boyes evened the contest at 1-1 when he deflected Mark Streit’s shot in off his skate. After a brief review, the goal was upheld, and the teams remained tied until late in the opening period.
Before the teams skated to intermission, Jordan Staal put the Hurricanes up 2-1 with his 10th goal of the season. He deflected Jay Harrison’s floating shot from the left point over Nabokov’s mitt at the 16:20 mark.
The back-and-forth pattern continued into the middle stanza, when Josh Bailey knotted the score at 2-2. Kyle Okposo made a nice stickhandling play off a faceoff to keep the puck in the offensive zone. He deked around a defender to generate a shot on goal. The original attempt was blocked by Dan Ellis, but Bailey was low in the slot with an open net for the rebound and roofed the shot for his 11th of the season at 7:34.
Late in the frame, Patrick Dwyer gave Carolina its third lead of the game. Tuomo Ruutu’s pass from behind the net glanced off Jordan Staal’s skates and out wide to empty space. Dwyer, who was skating in hard off a line change teed it up for the go-ahead tally at 17:45.
The Islanders attacked hard over the final 20 minutes in pursuit of the tying goal until Tavares finally tied it with 1:01 remaining. Midway through a line change, Matt Moulson fed the puck from the right wing across to Tavares, who skated down low and passed in front to Okposo. The puck went in off the defender stationed in front and found the back of the net. Initially, the tying marker was credited to Okposo, but the official scoring was changed after the game, giving Tavares 27 goals on the season.
In overtime, Michael Grabner rang one off the cross-bar, and Ellis made a save against the grain on Tavares a minute later, setting up the shootout.
The Islanders went first in the skills competition, with Frans Nielsen and Brad Boyes both being stopped on forehand attempts. Nash and Jeff Skinner scored at the other end, giving the Hurricanes the extra point.
After seeing the result of the Washington-Winnipeg game in the locker room, the mood in the Islanders room turned to one of optimism.
“We’ll take it,” Bailey said. “It’s never felt so good to lose a game. We’ll enjoy this one for tonight, but we also know what lies ahead. We have two more huge games, and we want to finish as high up in the standings as possible.”
The Islanders are still yet to lose in April (9-0-2), and sit one point behind Toronto for fifth in the Conference standings. They are two points ahead of the Rangers and Ottawa, who are tied for seventh place. The Islanders have two games remaining while the others have three left on the schedule.
Tavares said that it’s important for the team to keep pushing forward and not let up before the postseason.
“We’re starting to figure out what it takes to win,” Tavares said. “We’re happy to be there and give ourselves a chance to compete in the playoffs. A lot of us haven’t had that experience. We’ve still got two games left, and there’s a lot we still can accomplish this season. We’re happy about it, but we can’t be satisfied. We want to challenge ourselves going forward as well.”
The first game going forward will be Thursday, April 25, when the Islanders head to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.
Notes: Matt Moulson registered two assists, and paces the team with 29 on the season … The Islanders out-shot the Hurricanes 39-32, marking the 10th straight game in which they finished with more shots than their opponent … The Islanders move to 14-5-3 on the road this season; only Pittsburgh (18) and Chicago (17), who lead their respective Conferences, have more wins away from home … The Islanders went 0-for-2 on the power play, while Carolina went 0-for-0 … Travis Hamonic led all players with 25:33 of ice time … Brad Boyes took a team-high five shots on goal … The Islanders won 35-of-54 faceoffs (65%), led by Frans Nielsen (9-of-10, 90%), John Tavares (15-of-24, 63%) and Keith Aucoin (6-of-9, 67%) … Matt Martin led the team with five hits … Brian Strait blocked a game-high five shots.
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