Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens lost their games in New York on Thursday, leaving eighth place in the East unclaimed with three teams still in the hunt.
The New York Rangers clinched a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over Montreal at Madison Square Gardens. The Canadiens are still in the best position to claim eighth, as they need only hold Toronto to a tie after regulation in Saturday’s season-ending game.
“It’s disappointing, but we don’t have time to be down,” said Sheldon Souray, who scored the lone Montreal goal. “We’re going to have to go out and put our best game on the ice because it’s going to be a tough one.”
Meanwhile, at Uniondale, N.Y., the New York Islanders reasserted themselves in the playoff hunt with a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs. Both teams still have a chance to finish eighth, but they need help. Toronto needs to beat Montreal and hope the Rangers lose to either Philadelphia or New Jersey. The Isles need to win both their season-ending games and hope the Leafs knock off the Habs.
“We have not done one thing this year the easy way,” Toronto coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve had to scratch and claw and fight back, and now we need some help, but we’re still in the thick of things.”
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Pittsburgh 3 Ottawa 2, Minnesota 3 Edmonton 0, Colorado 3 Vancouver 1, San Jose 4 Calgary 3, New Jersey 3 Philadelphia 2, Buffalo 4 Boston 2, Columbus 2 Dallas 1 (OT), Nashville 4 St. Louis 1, Chicago 3 Detroit 2 (SO) and Phoenix 3 Los Angeles 2.
At Uniondale, N.Y., Jason Blake’s career-high 40th goal was the game-winner, and Wade Dubielewicz stopped 28 shots to lead the Islanders over Toronto.
“Forty goals is a great feeling, but the bigger concern was winning this game,” Blake said. “Considering we got the win and we’re still alive, it feels good to hit a milestone like that. A few years ago, I never thought I’d have this opportunity.”
Blake, Arron Asham and Miroslav Satan scored in the third period to prolong New York’s post-season hopes. They need to win both games this weekend – road games at Philadelphia and New Jersey – and hope Toronto beats Montreal on Saturday.
“I don’t care who we play – if we play the way we did tonight, we can beat anybody,” Dubielewicz said. “Our defensive effort took their space away from in front of the net. We kept them to the outside and didn’t give them many dangerous shots.”
Ryan Smyth and Mike Sillinger also scored for the Islanders.
John Pohl and Carlo Colaiacovo scored for Toronto, while Andrew Raycroft stopped 22 shots.
“We lost a chance to control our own fate here,” Toronto forward Matt Stajan said. “We need to win Saturday, and get help from either Philadelphia or Jersey.”
Nolan had praise for his New York rivals.
“The Rangers did a great job tonight,” Nolan said about New York’s win over Montreal that kept the Islanders’ playoff chance going. “Now we need a great game from the Leafs in Toronto on Saturday.”
At New York, Jaromir Jagr reached the 30-goal mark for the 15th straight season and added an assist to carry the Rangers back into the playoffs. New York had a chance to get in two nights earlier, but a shootout loss to the rival Islanders delayed the party.
Leaving it until the final game would’ve proved tricky.
“The sooner the better,” Jagr said. “If I knew we were going to win, I would say that I’d rather win it at home. But there are no guarantees.”
The celebration was on at centre ice after the final buzzer, and lucky fans took home player sweaters – an annual final-game tradition.
Jagr, finishing his first season as Rangers captain, has scored at least 30 goals in every NHL campaign following his rookie year with Pittsburgh – joining Mike Gartner as the only NHL players to do it 15 straight times. He gave New York a 2-0 lead with 8:42 left in the second and then helped set up defenceman Marek Malik’s goal with 1:34 remaining in the frame.
“You would think with a game with that much on the line that we would come out with more passion and energy,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “I don’t know why, but we sat there and watched them for 30 minutes.”
The Canadiens replaced goalie Jaroslav Halak with former starter Cristobal Huet at the beginning of the third period after Halak allowed three goals on 25 shots. Huet made eight saves in his first appearance since missing 20 games with a hamstring injury.
Penguins 3 Senators 2
At Ottawa, Maxime Talbot scored with 9.8 seconds remaining to lift Pittsburgh to victory and preserve its opportunity to claim home-ice advantage in a first-round playoff series against the Senators.
Wild 3 Oilers 0
At St. Paul, Minn., Niklas Backstrom shut out Edmonton for the second time in three days while Marian Gaborik scored his 30th goal.
Avalanche 3 Canucks 1
At Vancouver, Milan Hejduk scored three goals, including two four minutes apart in the third period – to help Colorado preserve its slim playoff hopes with a victory over Vancouver. Paul Stastny assisted on all three goals as the Avalanche, who pulled within three points of Calgary for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with two games to play.
Sharks 4 Flames 3
At San Jose, Calif., Milan Michalek and Mark Bell scored within 1:40 of each other in the second period to help the Sharks to a victory over Calgary. The Sharks solidified their hold on the fifth spot in the playoffs in the West.
Devils 3 Flyers 2
At Philadelphia, Martin Brodeur earned his NHL-record 48th win of the season as the New Jersey Devils clinched the Atlantic Division title with a win over the Flyers.
Sabres 4 Bruins 2
At Buffalo, N.Y., Thomas Vanek scored twice and the Sabres matched a franchise record by beating Boston for their 52nd victory.
Blue Jackets 2 Stars 1 (OT)
At Columbus, Ohio, Rick Nash scored 1:04 into overtime and the Blue Jackets rallied to beat Dallas and snap a four-game losing streak.
Predators 4 Blues 1
At Nashville, Tenn., David Legwand scored two goals, Paul Kariya scored his 500th NHL assist, and the Predators snapped a three-game skid by beating St. Louis.
Blackhawks 3 Red Wings 2 (SO)
At Chicago, Patrick Sharp and Jason Williams scored in the shootout to lift the Blackhawks over Detroit.
Coyotes 3 Kings 2
At Glendale, Ariz., Jeremy Roenick had a goal and an assist to help Phoenix beat Los Angeles.