The New York Islanders secured a first-round playoff match with the Washington Capitals with a 3-1 win over the Penguins Friday in Pittsburgh. Who has home ice in that first-round series depends on results in both teams' season finales on Saturday.
Perhaps of greater significance, Travis Hamonic left the game with what looked like a knee injury on a hit by Rob Scuderi during the first period.
Jaroslav Halak, who was the goat on Tuesday when he allowed a longshot game-winner with two seconds remaining, was key in stopping 37 of 38 Penguin shots.
The regulation win over Pittsburgh means the Penguins still have not clinched a playoff spot, though fate is still in their hands with a season finale against the 30th-place Buffalo Sabres.
The poor, poor Penguins, dressed only five defensmen thanks to key injuries and because the salary cap is a difficult thing. The Isles joined them in relying on five D due to an unwelcome injury of their own...
Travis Hamonic Injured
Hamonic's injury came amid the first-period Penguins blitz. With the Islanders having so much trouble even gaining the Penguins zone, Hamonic rushed it up himself. Unfortunately, he tried to squeeze by notorious submarine hip-checker Rob Scuderi, who this time injured a player on a completely legal and perfect check. The hit sandwiched Hamonic's knee into the boards. He immediately limped off and headed to the dressing room. He did not return to the game, and the Isles announced it quickly.
The War Room Tried...
But for Jaroslav Halak and one impressively opportunistic shorthanded play, the Isles had no business reaching the first intermission with a 1-0 lead. The Penguins came out hard, peppering Halak with shots and trying to amp up the physical game along the boards. Halak had to stay square to see and stop several shots through traffic, including a few genuine "robbed him" saves on Evgeni Malkin, Maxim Lapierre and, with just seconds remaining, Chris Kunitz.
The key moments of the period came in an eight-second span (well, on the clock, real-world time was several minutes) during a Penguins power play.
Patric Hornqvist somehow failed to slide a wobbling puck across the line after fooling Halak on the wraparound. Halak then got over in time with his stick, and later his glove, to keep the puck out. But the puck bounced on top of Halak's glove, where it was unclear from the ref's eyes and extensive replay review whether it ever got past the plane of the goal line.
On the ensuing faceoff, with the Penguins announcers -- brought to all of America thanks to NHL Network "flexing" this and tomorrow night's broadcast -- still bemoaning the goal "taken away" (it had never actually been ruled a goal), Cal Clutterbuck shot a pass by a sprawling Malkin to hit Casey Cizikas breaking alone through the neutral zone, where he quickly beat Marc-Andre Fleury glove side. Clutterbuck being Clutterbuck, he tried to migrate the celebration near the Penguins bench before the linesmen intervened.
In the second period, the Isles nearly got another shorthander on a 2-on-1 where Marc-Andre Fleury robbed Thomas Hickey with the glove as Michael Grabner headed back door.
Cizikas came up with a few big shot blocks on that penalty kill too, and the next power play would go to the Isles...
Downie's Gotta Downie
Steve Downie, one of the league's notorious temperamental
cheap shot artists "line crossers" who Mario Lemieux feigned were beneath his kind of employ, did one of his frequent unwise moves when he threw an unnecessarily late crouching hit on Thomas Hickey behind the Isles net. Downie was called for clipping and responded by slamming his stick on the ice with an exaggerated windup. Reputation probably got him called for clipping, but it didn't get him an unsportsmanlike add-on.
(Downie is the classic victim complex who has earned a horrible reputation, and now gets punished both for real things and for things based on that reputation, then acts like the latter is proof that he's been wronged all along. The cycle of foolishness spirals onward. Ironically, Hickey's preparation for the hit probably sold the call, yet also was based on Downie's reputation -- in other words, "I better be ready, that guy is the kind who tries to end careers.")
Too underline the completely uncontroversial allegation, heeeeere's Downie after the final buzzer:
However, the Isles made nothing of that power play, with John Tavares' stick breaking on one of his two prime shot attempts.
With the period winding down, just when it looked like the Isles might escape some late Penguins pressure, a puck went through the crease untracked by Halak and Lubomir Visnovsky, leaving Scuderi time to catch up to it and send it toward a large opening. Halak did turn to see it in time to get the palm of his blocker on it, but it still trickled in to tie the game with just six seconds left on the second-period clock.
Finishing the Job
But the third period brought a new stanza, and the Islanders pressed during the opening minutes. They were rewarded 2:46 in with a rebound goal by John Tavares (who incidentally kept pace with Sidney Crosby in the league scoring race after Crosby assisted on Scuderi's goal). The shot came from fan favorite and former Penguin Brian Strait at the blueline.
The Isles kept up the pressure for 10 minutes or so before a predictable stretch of "chip and lightly chase" ensued, with the help of the steady and calm Halak diffusing blitzes around his crease.
As the Penguins double- and long-shifted their stars to push for the equalizer, Michael Grabner took advantage of the consequential fatigue. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Grabner was unleashed, speeding away from and past the entire squad to break in on Fleury and beat him with the high far corner shot that made it 3-1.
The Penguins fans booed their squad for the final 3:40, as the Isles kept them from posing much threat. Tavares made a few game attempts at adding an empty net goal but had to settle for the consolation of keeping the puck in the Penguins zone.
Now the Isles close out the regular season, and Nassau Coliseum's part of it, tomorrow night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who won yet again tonight (against the Sabres, but still). If they can win that in regulation or OT and the Capitals fail to win their finale, the Isles will retake second place. If not, they'll be starting the playoffs on the road.