It was quick and it was painful. Fourteen seconds, and the Islanders' fading playoff hopes may have faded out for good.
The Devils scored twice in 14 seconds in the final 1:39 to turn the Islanders' one-goal lead into a stunning 2-1 loss Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, the sort of crushing regulation defeat that the Islanders absolutely cannot absorb.
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They now are alone in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from eighth with 14 games to go.
The players tried to break the shocked silence in their dressing room after the game by saying Sunday night's quick turnaround to face the Rangers at the Garden will be a welcome distraction, but it certainly appears to be too late now.
"We've got to win the game," said Travis Hamonic, still sitting in his full uniform 20 minutes after the sudden loss. "That's what it comes down to."
The Islanders were 99 seconds away from a hard-fought two points, owning a 1-0 edge over the Devils with rookie Anders Nilsson holding the fort in goal, as he did in beating the same team by that same score six days earlier.
Nilsson was tested much more often Saturday night, stopping the first 33 shots he faced, including Zach Parise on a shorthanded breakaway in the third with the game still scoreless.
Johan Hedberg was equally tough in the Devils' net, stopping Micheal Haley's breakaway in the second among his 23 saves. Hedberg owned a 1-0 shutout win at the Coliseum from Nov. 25, and the fact that the teams went to the third period in a scoreless tie wasn't all that surprising.
John Tavares got free for P.A. Parenteau's feed and roofed one over Hedberg's shoulder at 6:46 of the third, putting the Isles in front. They stayed aggressive and physical and Nilsson used his 6-5 frame well in goal again; even with the eighth-place Caps winning Saturday afternoon, the Isles seemed to be giving themselves a shot to stay in the race.
But then it all unraveled, at lightning speed.
David Clarkson circled the Islanders' goal and snapped a quick shot that snuck under Nilsson's arm with 1:39 to play. "I was prepared for him to shoot there. Obviously, I have to have that shot," Nilsson said. "I know I have to have that shot 10 times out of 10."
Eight seconds later, Parenteau shoved Bryce Salvador face-first into the end boards, drawing a clear boarding penalty. Patrik Elias won the ensuing faceoff from Frans Nielsen. Parise moved it back to a very quiet Ilya Kovalchuk, who slid the puck to Marek Zidlicky, and Zidlicky's blast got a brief screen from Elias and beat Nilsson low to the stick side.
Fourteen seconds, two goals and it was over. Tavares and Matt Moulson each had whacks from in close with Nilsson pulled and a minute to go, but Hedberg stood tough.
"It's how you respond after this one," said Islanders coach Jack Capuano, still trying to keep his eyes forward despite the widening gap between the Islanders and the playoff spots. "We played 57, 58 minutes of a pretty good game."
But those fourteen seconds quickly changed that, and the Islanders soon could be wondering where their long-shot playoff hopes went.