NEW YORK – The New York Rangers’ muddled playoff picture cleared some after a shootout loss to the New York Islanders in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
While the Islanders skated off with a 4-3 win Friday night, they knew their season had come to an end much earlier than they hoped. There was little solace in damaging the Rangers’ chances to earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s always nice to win, but I don’t think it overshadows the fact that there is a lot of disappointment and sadness in our locker room,” said Islanders forward Richard Park, who scored a short-handed goal and had the decisive tally in the shootout. “We had really high expectations throughout the whole year.
“It’s a little bit of a Band-Aid over the wound, but the hurt is still there.”
The Rangers will finish the regular season Sunday in New Jersey. A regulation win over the Devils will move New York into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and set up a first-round matchup with New Jersey.
“We still have a chance,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “Obviously we wanted to finish with a win at home, but they worked hard. It’s going to be fun on Sunday.”
New York could also face the Devils as the fifth-seeded team or fall to sixth, which would pit the Rangers against the Southeast Division champion – Washington or Carolina.
“It’s kind of the way when they drew up the conference with all divisional games at the end,” Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. “This is what they wanted.
“There are few meaningless games on an NHL schedule anymore. It goes down to the 82nd game.”
Jaromir Jagr got the Rangers even with the Islanders at 3-3 just 4:20 into the third period with his third goal in two games, but it wasn’t enough.
Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau scored on the Islanders’ first two shootout attempts against Lundqvist, but Nigel Dawes and Fredrik Sjostrom tied it.
In the fourth round, Park beat Lundqvist again before Wade Dubielewicz turned aside Petr Prucha. Dubielewicz made 48 saves, and Lundqvist stopped 29 shots before the shootout.
The injury-ravaged Islanders earned a split of the home-and-home series with their archrivals, but didn’t meet their prime objective of spoiling the Rangers’ post-season plans. The Rangers locked up a playoff berth with a 3-0 victory on Long Island on Thursday night.
“A lot of teams are playing great hockey,” Jagr said. “It is not going to be easy no matter who we are going to play. There are no weak teams.”
After reaching the post-season in four of the previous five seasons, the Islanders (35-38-9) can now set their sights on Monday’s NHL draft lottery with the hope of winning the chance to pick first in June.
“We always hear that there is nothing to play for. I strongly disagree with that,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. “We always have something to play for. … To just go through the motions isn’t the right thing to do, and we never did that, which is a great thing.”
The Islanders took three one-goal leads, the last on Park’s 12th of the season just seven seconds into the Rangers’ long 5-on-3 power play. The Rangers got a full 2-minute advantage when Josef Vasicek was sent off for cross-checking, and defenceman joined him in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Rangers got 10 shots, but had nothing else to show for that power play except another one-goal deficit.
“Dubielewicz played very good,” Jagr said. “The power play 5-on-3 was the difference. Not only we didn’t score, but they scored on us.”
Okposo netted his second NHL goal in the first period, and Miroslav Satan netted his 16th of the season in what might have been his final Islanders game. Satan, finishing his third season with the Islanders, can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Dan Girardi and Dawes both scored tying goals in the second period for the Rangers, who outshot the Islanders 21-10 in the second and finished with a season-high 51.
Okposo, in his ninth NHL game, added Lundqvist to his list of NHL goalie victims that until Friday consisted of only New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. He took a pass from Blake Comeau and made it 1-0 at 10:10.
Girardi tied it 2:29 into the second, but Satan put the Islanders back in front 3:11 later. Dawes’ shot hit the skate of Islanders forward Trent Hunter and sailed past a surprised Dubielewicz at 13:10 before Park tied it with 4:53 left in the second.
Notes: Islanders D Jack Hillen assisted on Satan’s goal for his first NHL point in his second game. … Lundqvist set the Rangers single-season record for games played with his 71st. … Jagr needs one goal for his 17th straight season with 25. … In 90 career contests against the Islanders, Jagr has 59 goals and 82 assists. … Okposo was headed back to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League for the remainder of the minor-league season.