The New York Islanders played bad and they should feel bad.
Jaroslav Halak inadvertently made sure they feel that way, though no one will feel worse than him right now. His mistake with two seconds to go gave a full 5-4 regulation loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. That and an Ottawa win (an insane one) means there wasn't even the consolation of a playoff clinch tonight.
The Isles weren't awful -- or not as bad as a three-goal, third-period deficit might imply -- but not as good as a three-goal third-period comeback would suggest either. The first line was dominated on the game's first shift, a signal of the Flyers' continued intent as sincere spoilers, while the Isles too often went through the motions.
Still, they stormed back in the third period to tie it at 4-4 with 28 seconds left, with a brilliant faceoff win from John Tavares to feed Anders Lee inexplicably left alone in front of the goal. Bullet dodged...for 26 more seconds.
Then Halak gave up a backbreaking wing-it-at-the-buzzer-cause-why-not? shot by Brayden Schenn to fritter one and possibly two standings points away. Just like that.
A devastating loss. A memorable gaffe for Halak. Potentially epically disastrous if it came at a bad time. This was not a good time.
Hockey, I Hate You I Love You I Hate You
The "through the motions" feel of the night especially included the power play, where they remained frustratingly pedestrian, glued to the perimeter, and allergic to all manner of shots. That changed for a moment when John Tavares deflected in Ryan Strome's slap-pass to make the score 2-1 midway through the game, but future power plays returned to passive ugliness.
The Five-on-Three-as-Oracle old-time theory of hockey would say the Isles lost because they failed to convert on a two-man advantage, then watched the Flyers score on the 5-on-4 remnants of their own 5-on-3. In reality, they lost because their best players were some of the worst culprits, while the Isles blew coverage on Claude Giroux's second goal (tip: He's someone to cover) and let the Flyers' bottom six cycle them for insurance goals.
Granted, this loss will and should ultimately be hung on Halak for his loss of...not focus necessarily, but certainly loss of WHATEVER YOU DO JUST MAKE SURE THIS PUCK DOESN'T GO IN to-it-ness. And though the Isles played poorly, outside of a big save on the lengthy 5-on-3, Halak never had a "he kept us in it" moment among the 27 shots he faced. A few goals were unstoppable, but he was also saved by a crossbar here and a wide shot there.
Anyway, the Isles gave him little to work with in this one. Until the final 28 seconds.
- The backbreaker wasted a nice game for Anders Lee, who scored twice in the third to break his 10-game goal drought. Down 4-1 after Carlo Colaiacovo's goal, Lee and Johnny Boychuk each scored to make it close, Boychuk's coming with Halak pulled for a sixth attacker.
- Lee's rousing tying goal off of Tavares' faceoff win, also with a sixth attacker, made lots of diving plays to prevent empty net goals pay off. The Isles were good with the sixth attacker, really the only time all night where they showed the needed desperation.
- They were even fine after that. Brayden Schenn's shot from the blueline through Travis Hamonic hit Halak wrong. Oh, so wrong.
- It's funny, the emotions of a hockey game and what you can read into little stupid moments. Giroux left alone? This team is floundering. Steady comeback with big tying goal? This is the kind of year they deserve. Ridiculous flub goal to lose one/two points and waste that comeback? This is the kind of year they get.
- The Islanders were without Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, who was a late scratch. Michael Grabner, Colin McDonald and Tyler Kennedy replaced those three forwards and got roughly 11 to nine minutes.
- Other stuff happened, but somehow the memories are all wiped out but the final minute.
- If there's one thing I know about Halak having watched him here and with the Blues, it's that he has historically been good at putting things like this behind him quickly.
- I can't remember a thing quite like this though.
- The Isles have never swept the Flyers in a season series. Still.
- Sort of lost in the shuffle, or on the mind for about 26 seconds: Tavares moved back into a tie for first in the Art Ross scoring race, now with 83 points.
- Adding the weirdest salt to the wound: The Isles didn't even clinch a playoff spot tonight, because they lost in regulation while the Senators completed a comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Penguins in overtime. So Sens win, which is tolerable, but the Penguins got a point out of it too.
One point behind the Capitals with two games to play, now home ice looks dicey. It almost requires a sweep of the back-to-back close to the season against the Penguins, who need those points in Pittsburgh, and the Blue Jackets, who would love nothing more than to close out the Coliseum with a gut punch to the Islanders.
Had enough gut punching for one week, thanks.