Islanders shoot way into playoffs on final day
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A final shot for the final spot on the final day.
The New York Islanders in, the Toronto Maple Leafs out.
Let the playoffs begin.
New York secured the last open postseason berth Sunday night with a thrilling 3-2 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils.
That capped a week in which the Islanders won their final four games and leapfrogged idle Toronto and Montreal, one day after the Maple Leafs saved their season and New York’s with a win that eliminated the Canadiens.
“Our fate was in their hands and their fate was in our hands,” Islanders forward Ryan Smyth said. “We seemed to find an extra edge. Every team that is out of the playoffs would love to be in the position that we were in and have that chance. We made the most of it.”
The Islanders blew a 2-0 lead in the final 4:13 of regulation on two goals by John Madden, the latter scored with 0.9 seconds left. They survived overtime and moved on when third-string goalie Wade Dubielewicz poke-checked the puck away from Sergei Brylin to end the shootout.
Not a bad way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “Easter Epic,” a four-overtime victory against Washington in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series that ended on Pat LaFontaine’s goal.
Now they will face the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres, the Presidents’ Trophy winners who closed their season Sunday in less dramatic fashion, with a meaningless 4-3 loss to Philadelphia — the team with the league’s worst record (22-48-12).
Detroit tied Buffalo with an NHL-high 113 points, but Buffalo secured home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs by winning 53 games — three more than the Red Wings.
The Islanders got good news before they even hit the ice Sunday when the Devils — safely locked into the No. 2 position in the East — decided to rest goalie Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur already was assured of finishing with the most wins in the league — a record-setting 48 — and was comfortable knowing that the best Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo could do was tie him at the mark. Luongo also sat out Sunday when the Canucks lost a tune-up game, 3-1 at Phoenix.
The Devils will take on the seventh-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning, and No. 4 Ottawa will open at home against scoring champion Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The other series in the East features the Southeast Division champion Atlanta Thrashers, in the first playoff appearance of their seven seasons, taking on the New York Rangers.
For the third time, and first since the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup title, all three New York metropolitan teams reached the postseason in the same year.
Out West, Detroit will face No. 8 Calgary, which clinched its spot Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche lost to Nashville. That spoiled a potential win-or-go-home scenario Sunday in Denver when the Avalanche hosted the Flames.
The only distinction it ended up having was being the final game of the regular season. Only the Islanders-Devils tilt had any bearing on the playoffs Sunday.
And Brodeur and Luongo were content to watch. Both netminders, who will receive serious consideration for league MVP as well as the Vezina Trophy, decided to rest in advance of the playoffs instead of risking injury.
“Anytime the best goalie in the world isn’t in the net across from you, you’ve got a better chance,” Dubielewicz said.
Brodeur broke Bernie Parent’s single-season win record of 47 on Saturday, and surpassed his own mark by playing 4,697 minutes. He posted a league-best 12 shutouts, including three over the Islanders.
“We talked about the wins record, but he couldn’t really surpass me, Brodeur said of Luongo. “It’s something that we thought about since if you are going to go that far, what’s one more gameâ¢ When we cleared up that question, we finally made that decision.
“There are a lot of things that are positive for it, so we’ll see the payoff.”
Luongo and the third-seeded Canucks will gear up for a series against the Dallas Stars; the No. 2 Anaheim Ducks will take on No. 7 Minnesota; and the fourth-seeded Nashville Predators are set to face the fifth-seeded San Jose Sharks.
Crosby became the youngest scoring champion in league history when the 19-year-old Penguins phenom took the Art Ross Trophy with 120 points — doing it with 36 goals and 84 assists. San Jose’s Joe Thornton, the league MVP a year ago when he won the scoring title with 125 points, finished six shy of Crosby.
Brodeur will test his mettle in the first round against Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier, the goals champion with a career-best 52. Thornton was tops in assists with 92.
Only Ottawa’s Dany Heatley joined Lecavalier in the 50-goal club. The Senators forward hit the mark exactly for the second straight season, the first to do it consecutively since Pavel Bure in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.
The defensive-minded Minnesota Wild rode goalie Niklas Backstrom to the playoffs. The first-year player from Finland had the best goals-against average of 1.97 and the highest save percentage of .929.