They got the first win of two this weekend they needed to stay in the hunt, and then got help Saturday night when the Toronto Maple Leafs eliminated the Montreal Canadiens from the crowded Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Wade Dubielewicz was solid again with 28 saves and the Islanders stayed alive by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 a few hours earlier.
If the Islanders win at New Jersey on Sunday, they will claim eighth place and face the Buffalo Sabres – the NHL’s top team – in the first round of the playoffs. If New York loses, Toronto will take on Buffalo.
“The thing we talked about was getting the opportunity to fight for the spot,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. “We did our part.”
Alexei Yashin, Miroslav Satan and Richard Park all scored for the Islanders. Tom Poti added an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left.
“It will probably be a lot more nerve-racking for us than our own game was,” defenceman Sean Hill said before watching the Toronto game. “You hate to be in a situation where you don’t have any control and that’s exactly where we’ll be at the drop of that puck.”
But now the Islanders have their destiny in their own hands.
Mike Richards had a goal, and Simon Gagne scored his 40th goal of the season and 200th of his career for the Flyers, who lost their fifth straight. Philadelphia, which will finish the worst season of the franchise’s 40-year history on Sunday, already set the ignominious record for most losses in a season (60) and fewest points (54).
The Flyers ended up with the worst record in the NHL for the first time and needed wins against New York and Buffalo this weekend to tie the franchise-worst mark of 58 points set in 1969-70.
It didn’t happen.
Dubielewicz, who doesn’t even have a picture on the roster page of the Islanders website, has been surprisingly steady since a concussion knocked out starter Rick DiPietro. He made a combined 64 saves in wins this week over the Rangers and Toronto, and the third-string goaltender is showing he can handle the pressure-packed games.
With DiPietro out, Dubielewicz is ready to prove he could be counted on in the post-season.
“I feel like I’ll be playing, I think,” he said. “It’s going to be worse because you’re not in control.”
The only goal he allowed until the final minute was Gagne’s second-period tally. The milestone goal came during a power play and with New York already ahead 3-0.
“It’s a mark as a hockey player that I would like to reach every year,” Gagne said. “It’s fun to put up those numbers, but you’d like to do it in a good year. Right now, it’s pretty much a disappointing year for us.”
The Islanders also made the most of their power-play situations, with Satan and Yashin each scoring with the man advantage.
Satan scored his 27th goal 3:36 in on a slap shot from the circle, beating Antero Niittymaki on the stick side. Dubielewicz made that lead stand later in the period when he made an athletic sprawling stop in the crease.
New York wasted even less time to start the second after Yashin scored on a similar slap shot from the top of the circle 1:10 into the period.
Park made it 3-0 midway through the second when he stretched his body over the crease to retrieve his own pass and backhanded the puck in, while he was grabbed down from behind.
Richards scored his ninth goal with 1:02 left to make it 3-2.
Once thought of as the Flyers goalie of the future after helping them to a 101-point season last year, Niittymaki has played sparingly since they acquired Martin Biron. Niittymaki, a restricted free agent, might be forced to accept a backup role next season.
“It’s going to be a long summer. I can recharge my batteries and hopefully be better next year, I guess,” he said. “It’s a long summer. A lot of things can happen.”
Notes: Flyers D Derian Hatcher played in his 1,000th NHL game. Hatcher, who also played for the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars), and Detroit Red Wings, is the 218th player to reach that mark. … Gagne was chosen as the Flyers MVP; Hatcher was voted most outstanding defenceman; and LW Ben Eager was most improved. … Flyers RW Sami Kapanen was knocked out of the game with a bruised right foot. C Jeff Carter is questionable for the finale against Buffalo with a lower body injury.