The New York Islanders punched their ticket to the playoffs with a mostly incident-free 4-2 win over one of the league’s worst teams limping its way to the end of the season.
The spoils of their win are as yet undefined — either a doomsday meeting with the record-setting Bruins, or a slightly less terrifying meeting with the Hurricanes — but they did enjoy one raucous celebration with the Elmont crowd, plus the infinite pleasure of eliminating the Penguins after that team shot itself in the foot at home against the terrible Blackhawks.
But pausing the schadenfreude for a moment: The Isles got two goals from Brock Nelson, including one lethal wristshot that has become a staple of his mid-career breakout. They even got a power play goal, and as far as we know, no one got hurt.
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It was a much needed and most welcome better start than the disaster in D.C., and the Islanders netted what felt like an all-important first goal mid-way through the opening period. A fast transition up ice from Adam Pelech to Kyle Palmieri sent Nelson over the blueline with the puck. Pierre Engvall’s drive to the net created both traffic for the screen and space for Nelson to find a shooting lane.
Brock Nelson finds his lane and rips it for the #Isles lead pic.twitter.com/O4BVmLVsOK— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) April 12, 2023
Alas, if the first goal provided the feeling that it would be the Islanders night, an equalizer off an ugly turnover late in the first brought the anxiety flooding back. Noah Dobson was the cuplrit on the right wing boards of the Isles zone, creating a lethal two-on-one with a nice low-angle conversion by Rem Pitlick beyond Sorokin’s outstretched glove hand.
Rem-timer#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/2oPVngk3H2— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) April 12, 2023
The Islanders didn’t let that deflate them for long, if at all, and once again it was an energetic shift from Zach Parise and Hudson Fasching that created the spark. Parise absolutely would not let the Canadiens exit their zone, and when he needed a breather, Fasching took the next turn to harass the Canadiens defenders.
That created a very obvious rim around the left wing boards that both J-G Pageau and Scott Mayfield read easily. Pageau got there first, intercepted the puck and sent it toward the net where Parise deflected it on goal. The puck shot high into the air off goalie Sam Montembeault, and Fasching was the first to the rebound, beating out Nick Suzuki to slam it in.
Just beautiful fast play here from JG Pageau to Zach Parise and Hudson Fasching buries it to restore the #Isles lead pic.twitter.com/b2qycJAhKE— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) April 12, 2023
That made it 2-1 with 1:03 to go — just 1:19 after Pitlick’s equalizer — and allowed the Islanders to take a restored lead into the first intermission.
Things were feeling up, but the first period was even enough to be scary. The second period was a different story. The Isles were buzzing, consistently drove play and pressured on the forecheck. They were a little leaky in transition, the source for most of the Canadiens’ six shots (to the Isles 18) in the period, but overall it was exactly what they needed.
At the midway point, Nelson got his second on a deflection of a point shot by Noah Dobson, who did well to walk the line to create a shooting lane.
Noah Dobson gets it to the net and Brock Nelson is on a hatty watch with his deflection pic.twitter.com/LGbkMj9sY7— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) April 13, 2023
That made it 3-1 and the way the Isles were playing, paved the road to comfort. But no! An Islanders power play came to the rescue to make it a game again.
It was fairly benign play at first, a bobble and a loose puck at the offensive blueline, but Samuel Bolduc had a step on Suzuki as he came back in the Isles zone to retrieve. But Suzuki got decent body position and — critically, but uncalled because of course — grabbed a hold of Bolduc’s stick to prevent the defenseman from getting the puck. It should’ve been a penalty on Suzuki but they’re never gonna call that, especially not to waive off an impressive goal.
The icing on the cake was that Sorokin came out a couple of steps to potentially play the puck or cut off the angle, and Suzuki’s one-handed swat chipped the puck just right to arch over Sorokin and drop under the crossbar.
ONE-HANDED + WHILE FALLING + SHORTHANDED– NICK SUZUKI ARE YOU SERIOUS?! pic.twitter.com/19pNkbrhwO— NHL (@NHL) April 13, 2023
If the Islanders were going to blow it, that was the perfect omen.
But wait, there’s more: Before their own power play expired, Anders Lee took a high-sticking penalty to kill the rest of it, giving the Canadiens a late power play of their own. Fortunately the Isles killed that off, reaching the intermission with a 3-2 lead when they should’ve been leading by a couple of goals or more.
The third period was much more restricted than the first two, with the Isles playing far more conservatively to lock things down. They only allowed two shots to reach Sorokin through 15 minutes (period shots ended up at 7-5).
With just under five minutes, Parise drew a penalty after taking a dangerous check from behind.
“There’s a penalty [on the Habs],” Butch Goring said, then quickly added: “Oohp...is that good or bad?”
Against all odds...it was good!
To play it safe, the Islanders deployed two defensemen on the power play, and that second blueliner, Sebastian Aho, created a miraculous power play goal, sending a very deflectable shot that Anders Lee redirected in for his 28th of the season.
That made it 4-2, presumably out of reach with under four minutes to go. The crowd erupted after the draw into the loudest “LET’S-GO, ISLANDERS” chants we’ve heard in a while.
With three minutes left, Nelson had a point-blank chance at the top of the crease and tried to slide it in for the hat trick, but ol’ Mendelbaum from Seinfeld held firm.
The Canadiens invited an easier hat trick try for Nelson by pulling for a sixth attacker, but Nelson never got a chance. No problem, the crowd serenaded the Isles to the final horn, and perhaps their final moment of pure joy for the season.
The playoffs are next. With the win, the Isles are temporarily in the first wild card position, and they’ll stay there unless the Panthers win tomorrow night over Carolina. Hang on to this spot, and the Isles face
either the Devils or the Hurricanes in the first round. (They can no longer face the Devils, since a Hurricanes loss would mean the Panthers bump the Isles from the first wild card position. Thanks, Baxter.) Get bumped by a Panthers win, and their fate will be terribly narrated by Jack Edwards.
To follow along: The Hurricanes, who lead by a point, are in Florida tomorrow, while the Devils are in Washington.
And the Penguins? They have to go to Columbus with no purpose, none at all.