Two goals allowed in the first 47 seconds would make you think, "Uh oh, here we go again." But it was not one of those games in Philadelphia. The Islanders fought back to tie quickly, then conceded again 19 seconds later. Then fought back some more and even took a 4-3 lead, then conceded again. Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled after three goals. Rick DiPietro was in for the duration.
For DP, I assume they wanted to keep getting him reps come hell or high water (or six goals) to finish out the season; "Bob" on the other hand is the Flyers' declared playoff starter. They probably didn't want him entering the playoffs with a 6 hung on him, which is where things were headed half-way through the opening period.
It was another game effort for the Islanders' "last men standing" skeleton crew, those who survived the 600 man-games lost to injury this year. Mark Katic, Shane Sims and Dylan Reese isn't the army you dream of taking against the Eastern Conference's second seed, but overall the unit did as they have throughout this final third: They kept plugging until the end.
They weren't helped by the opening minute though. DiPietro caught a puck, tried to play it, turned it over, and the Flyers converted a one-timer by Kimmo Timonen. Just seconds later, the Flyers made it two in the opening minute after Radek Martinek pinched up the center, Timonen intercepted a Kyle Okposo pass, and sent Scott Hartnell in past Mark Katic on a breakaway where he beat DiPietro clean glove side. (Great play and great shot by Hartnell, who caught the pass in mid-air at the Isles blueline.)
But just when you thought it'd be a slaughter to end the season on a truly sour note, the Isles rebounded. Jack Capuano called a timeout after that second goal, but there was much between that and the first goal (including two more ten-minute misconducts to Trevor Gillies and Zenon Konopka (his first of two) after Daniel Carcillo gave Travis Hamonic a few protest shoves, but then declined when Hamonic dropped his gloves.).
Michael Grabner collected his 34th and final goal in a Calder-worthy season on an unassisted breakaway after stripping Ville Leino. (Yawn. Old news.) A couple minutes later, Travis Hamonic scored on a powerplay blast that was quite similar to his tying goal last night. On the next shift, Daniel Briere stripped Dylan Reese at the blueline for a breakaway where he scored with a backhand upstairs. But three minutes after that Matt Moulson continued a pretty passing play to John Tavares, who scored his 29th and final goal of the season.
This was all in the first period, mind you.
The second period brought more of the same, including the only Isles lead of the night when P.A. Parenteau scored his 20th, also on the powerplay. (Yeah, I know: Two powerplay goals in one game! Also: Penalties a'plenty called against both teams.) That was the end of the Islanders' fun though. The Flyers tied it at 4-4 half-way through the game, got the go-ahead goal late in the second, then added an insurance goal and empty-net goal in the third. MIcheal Haley nearly tied it at 5-5 when he rang a shot off the post, but shortly after Matt Martin drew a boarding penalty where the Flyers scored on the ensuing powerplay, short-side on DiPietro.
The Flyers win the Atlantic and get the second seed in the East. The Islanders will finish in 27th place, the fourth-best lottery position, which means they have a 10.7% chance of winning the 1st overall pick and a roughly 20% chance of someone above them winning the lottery and bumping them down to the 5th overall pick. That "drawing" (they're not calling it a "lottery") will be televised Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on Versus/TSN. We'll have an open thread here.
As for this season series, that's an absolute sweep by the Flyers. The Isles had a better effort in Philadelphia than I can remember -- undermined in part by the goaltending -- but this is one streak that needs to change next year. Can't hope to make the playoffs with a team in your own division dominating you.
All Your Stat Needs
Eric Hornick with a thorough end-of-season stat wrap.
Recurring refrain: Not a good game for DiPietro by any measure, and not the way to end another trying season for him (.886, 3.34 GAA on the year). The Islanders will be happy that he appeared in 26 games -- his highest total since 2007-08, when this awful cascade of injuries began at the All-Star Break skills competition. I'm very patient on this matter -- I argued for using this year to try to work out the post-surgery and grueling rehab kinks.
But the reality is they cannot afford him playing like this next season. If he doesn't return from this summer with another major step forward in his form, then they won't be able to use him as part of a team that hopes to contend for a playoff spot. Whether that means Bridgeport conditioning time or what, I don't know. But how long can you wait for this to change while using NHL games that count?
Zenon Konopka: I know there is much sentiment to re-sign him, and I understand he's had a big effect on that room. But somehow, some way the Islanders drew 31 10-minute misconducts this year (Edmonton is second, with 20. Some teams had zero or one). You know and I know that several of them were abortions of justice. But Konopka drew 10 of them (he had six last year with Tampa Bay). Whether deserved or not, the man attracts this attention from NHL officials and the Islanders lose a big faceoff guy for huge stretches of games. To me that's a factor in how important he is to the team. Even if he were a purely innocent sweet pea, that tendency is not attractive, despite his ability to see all 82 games.
The Auger Factor: Of course the flip-side to that. Stephane Auger was reffing this game. Enough said. Even Howie Rose was suggesting on the play-by-play that the Isles should speak to the NHL over the summer about the officiating. I suppose this could be seen as the league's subtle response to Feb. 11 -- but if so, it's on the league for not paying attention for more than a year before that date.
- John Tavares made nice plays on all three of the goals he was part of, a nice way to end the year even if he didn't reach 30 goals. He finishes as the Isles leader with 67 points, a 13-point jump over his rookie year.
- Josh Bailey saw some time on the powerplay point again, and I thought he looked better than yesterday there, and used that creativity and elusiveness we see from time to time. Still much prefer a D-man there though. Hamonic will do.
- I'm not outraged by Martin's hit on Carcillo with the Islanders gate open -- it nearly became something awful, but I can't think Martin saw the door open (and Carcillo did not go into the gate at all). But it was still an awkward and careless hit that deserved the penalty. Carcillo was eluding Katic at the time.
- Shane Sims played 6:50 in his NHL debut. As with the other ATO's, I couldn't tell you much. I like that he wore #55 like Campanale did. That should be the default ATO number in my book (Campanale wore it, but Doornbosch wore 29).
- Briere is a wonderfully shifty player -- and a dirty little bastard. Too bad. How dirty do you have to be to be a little guy who garners no sympathy in this league?
FIG Winner: We may have had a two-for-one winner here, as Ukiddinme was closest on the time for the unassisted goal by Grabner...
LIG Winner: ...Meanwhile, Parenteau scored the Last Islanders Goal, 39:07 from the end of the year. Three people chose him in our LIG thread, but looks like Ukiddinme was closest by selecting one of the assists (Tavares) and the time closest to t-minus 39 minutes. Let me know if I'm wrong, but it looks like Ukiddinme pulled off a wild double here.
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And that's a wrap. Thanks again for all the kind words and for all who participated this season. It's bittersweet to see this wild year end, from the 14-game winless streak to the coaching change to the fun rebound in the second half. So much to build on.
We'll be back at it tomorrow.