UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The New York Islanders skated off with a wild and satisfyingly gritty win in their home finale.
Their only regret is they didn’t do enough in the first 80 games of the season to make this one meaningful.
Michael Grabner scored his second go-ahead goal of the third period with just 46.8 seconds left, John Tavares helped set up two others to reach 50 assists this season, and the Islanders outlasted the Winnipeg Jets 5-4 on Thursday night.
But the Islanders will be watching the post-season at home for the fifth straight year.
“It was a good game to end the season with,” said Kyle Okposo, who also scored two goals. “Of course it wasn’t the season we wanted to have. But at least we played well tonight and dominated a good part of the game.”
With just one road game at Columbus left on Saturday in another disappointing season, the Islanders (34-36-11) sit in 14th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference—11 points below the post-season cutoff.
The Islanders have posted nearly identical records at home and on the road. The away mark is acceptable at 17-18-5, but being 17-18-6 at home isn’t nearly good enough to challenge for a playoff spot.
“We should’ve been a lot better at home,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We were good on the road but not good enough at home. Our mission going into next season has to be to get better every day.”
Grabner, who had given the Islanders a short-lived 4-3 lead with a penalty-shot goal with 8:15 remaining, deflected a shot-pass from defenceman Travis Hamonic to finally put New York ahead for good. The Islanders led 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 before putting the Jets away.
Winnipeg kept coming until time ran out. Defencemen Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien both netted tying goals in the third period. Another defenceman, Tobias Enstrom, and Andrew Ladd scored in the first to erase the early 2-0 hole.
Bogosian made it 3-3 at 7:03, and Byfuglien tied it at 4 with 7:39 to go.
“It’s disrespectful the way we start games,” Jets coach Claude Noel said. “Yes we battled back, but we shouldn’t have had to.”
Tavares set up goals by Matt Moulson and Okposo, who gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead in the second. Tavares’ setup made him the first Islanders player with 50 assists since Steve Thomas in the 1992-93 season.
Al Montoya made 21 saves for New York, which snapped a three-game losing streak. Chris Mason stopped 23 shots for Winnipeg, in its final road game. The Jets are 2-4-1 in their past seven.
“It was a tough one,” Bogosian said. “We got behind the eight-ball and then battled back.”
Shortly after PA Parenteau, the Islanders’ third-leading scorer this season, sprained an ankle while driving in on a breakaway, Okposo put New York back on top with his second of the night.
Tavares did a spin move along the right-wing boards in the Jets’ zone and flung a pass across to Okposo, who carried the puck into the left circle and slammed a shot in to make it 3-2 at 8:41 of the second.
A little over three minutes earlier, during a New York power play, Parenteau raced ahead and was closing in on the Winnipeg net when defenceman Mark Stuart charged in from the left and dived into Parenteau, with his stick outstretched, to thwart the rush. Stuart crashed into Parenteau while on his stomach, and appeared to pin Parenteau’s left leg. No penalty was called. The Islanders announced that he had sprained an ankle.
New York seemed inspired early and threatened to run the Jets out of the building when they scored on consecutive shots 1:28 apart.
Moulson got things going 6:38 in after Tavares got the puck from Winnipeg defenceman Grant Clitsome along the right-wing boards. Tavares nudged a pass over to Moulson, who snapped in his 36th goal with a shot from the right circle dot.
Okposo had an even easier time making it 2-0 at 8:06. Josh Bailey had the puck in the right circle, and got Mason to commit to him before sliding the puck over to Okposo alone in the slot. Okposo had a wide-open net in front of him, and smacked a shot in while going down to a knee.
But the Jets stormed back.
Enstrom got them within a goal after Tavares had a pass intercepted in the Winnipeg zone. Enstrom ran a give-and-go with Jim Slater in the New York end, and scored his sixth goal with 10:18 left in the first.
Ladd tied it with 2:52 remaining by scoring his 28th. Bryan Little’s shot from the right point was stopped by Montoya, but the rebound kicked out in front to Ladd, who scored into a gaping net.
The former Atlanta Thrashers will conclude their first season in Winnipeg at home on Saturday against Tampa Bay.
“This first season back in Winnipeg was a blast,” Enstrom said.
NOTES: Tavares has assisted on 24 of Moulson’s goals this season. Tavares, who has set career highs in goals (31) and assists (50), is the first Islanders player to reach 80 points since Ziggy Palffy had 87 in the 1997-98 season. … Islanders D Steve Staois, who spent most of his career with the Edmonton Oilers, was honoured before playing in his 1,000th NHL game. … After going 24 games without a goal in 2012, Bogosian has scored in two straight. … The Jets earned five of six points in the first three games of this four-game trip.