The Islanders needed a 3-2 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday to complete a sweep of their final four games and earn a first-round showdown with the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres.
“We didn’t lose any hope,” Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt said. “We could’ve easily said, ‘Oh, it’s not meant to be.’ But guys battled hard in overtime and got us out in the shootout.”
The win triggered a wild on-ice celebration by the Islanders, seemingly out of the Stanley Cup hunt one week ago. They regrouped in front of third-string goalie Wade Dubielewicz to edge the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last playoff berth on the final day of the regular season.
Toronto finished its season Saturday night with a 6-5 win over the Montreal Canadiens. The Maple Leafs had 91 points, one more than the Islanders.
The Islanders mission was simple: win, and they were in the playoffs.
Despite squandering a 2-0 lead in the third period, the Islanders beat the Devils in the shootout. Miroslav Satan and Viktor Kozlov, the first two shooters, scored for New York and Dubielewicz made poke saves on Brian Gionta and Sergei Brylin to send the Islanders into the postseason.
Once again, Dubielewicz was the hero. The 28-year-old goalie, playing in only his 17th NHL game, improved his record to 4-1 since being called up from the minors on March 27. The Islanders turned to him out of desperation when Mike Dunham struggled after replacing Rick DiPietro, who was sidelined for the final seven games with a concussion.
In regulation, the Islanders got two goals by Richard Park. Dubielewicz made 22 saves through regulation and overtime before making the two crucial stops in the shootout.
The Islanders caught a break when the Devils rested ironman goalie Martin Brodeur, 6-1 against the Islanders with three shutouts this season. Scott Clemmensen got the call, making only his fourth start of the season.
Devils general manager and coach Lou Lamoriello didn’t listen to critics who suggested Brodeur should have played – given the magnitude of the game for the Islanders and Maple Leafs.
“We have to do what is best for our hockey club,” Lamoriello said. “I don’t want to be derogatory, but you can not think any other way.”
The Islanders got off to a quick start.
Park gave New York a 1-0 lead at 11:53 of the first, knocking in Jeff Tambellini’s rebound in a goal-mouth scramble. The score brought loud cheers from the large contingent of Islanders fans on hand.
Park scored again at 7:51 of the third with a wrist shot from the high slot that sailed over Clemmensen’s shoulder.
John Madden scored twice for the Devils to send the game into overtime and ultimately, the shootout.
Madden deflected a shot from Jay Pandolfo with 4:13 remaining.
With Clemmensen on the bench for an extra attacker, Madden tied the score with less than one second remaining. Dubielewicz made a sprawling save on Madden’s initial shot but was helpless as Madden backhanded his own rebound into the net.
A video review confirmed that the goal was scored before time expired.
“That was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” Dubielewicz said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe that we were that close. I was pretty confident that we were going to win the game at that point. They just kept plugging away and they were able to get it.”
Both teams had excellent chances to win in the overtime. Dubielewicz stopped Patrik Elias early in the session while Clemmensen stopped Satan in the slot 2½ minutes in.
A postseason berth for the Islanders and Maple Leafs then came down to a shootout.
“If you’re an old-school hockey fan, you’re probably not too excited about the way this finished,” Devils centre Scott Gomez said. “If you ask a fan who was here today, I’m sure they would tell you it was incredible.”
The loss ended the Devils four-game winning streak. The Patrick Division winners had no incentive as their playoff position as the second seed in the conference was already assured. The Devils will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round.
Notes: The Devils activated D Richard Matvichuk on Sunday from the long-term injury list. Matvichuk had not played this year because of a combination of a back injury and the Devils inability to squeeze him under the salary cap. The Devils cleared roster space by assigning D Andy Greene and RW Cam Janssen to Lowell (AHL). . . . By sitting out, Brodeur fell one game shy of tying Grant Fuhr’s record of 79 appearances by a goalie set in the 1995-96 season with St. Louis. . . . The game might have been the Devils final regular-season contest in the Continental Airlines Arena. They hope to complete construction of the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. for the start of next season.