NEWARK -- A mid-March game between the Islanders and Devils with playoff implications might have seemed far-fetched in November, but Saturday night's contest was just that. And Islanders coach Jack Capuano made no effort to conceal his disgust with the officiating in his team's 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey.
Shortly after Anssi Salmela's goal at 3:09 of overtime, the usually diplomatic Capuano blasted the officials -- referees Stephane Auger and Chris Lee and linesmen Shane Heyer and Tim Nowak -- for what he felt was a shameful display in a game with so much on the line.
"We got no respect tonight,'' a seething Capuano said. "Maybe if we start winning games, we'll get it. Maybe it's a young coaching staff and they've got an older coaching staff. Maybe it's their players -- their veteran guys versus our non-veteran guys. I have no idea. But it's tough for guys to prepare for a game and then it's taken away from you.''
The call that set off the Islanders was the uncharacteristic 10-minute misconduct penalty called against mild-mannered Frans Nielsen at 11:33 in the third. That left them without one of their best penalty-killers for the rest of the game.
"There's two teams battling there. [The Devils] won the game in overtime [Friday] night and they got all the calls tonight, let's face it,'' Capuano said. "It was a one-sided game. I don't comment too much on the officiating, but you've got to let the players decide the game, especially with a game of this magnitude.''
Capuano said he received no explanation on the Nielsen penalty and had difficulty engaging the officiating crew the entire game. "Tonight was a little bit overboard for me," he said. "I don't think we're that undisciplined and they're that disciplined. We had 11 seconds of power-play time and we have a guy that has 28 penalty minutes [this season], our assistant captain, get thrown into the box for 10 minutes. To me, that's a lack of respect."
Blake Comeau tallied his 20th goal of the season and John Tavares scored his 25th to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead after Jacob Josefson's first-period marker, but the Devils tied the score in the third. After Michael Grabner was stopped on a breakaway by goaltender Martin Brodeur, David Clarkson knotted the score at 2.
Clarkson was given credit for pushing through his own rebound, but it caught Comeau's glove before it dribbled in at 5:42. Salmela's first goal of the season then won it.
The Devils moved within six points of the eighth-place Sabres and the Islanders moved within nine points of Buffalo (they have played two more games than the Sabres have).
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Islanders have not been within single digits of a playoff spot since Nov. 23, when they were nine points out.
"It felt like a playoff game, definitely,'' Comeau said. "There was a lot of emotion out there. A good showcase of that was Frans playing with a lot of emotion tonight. Those were big points for both teams. It's tough for both teams to make the playoffs, but we're definitely not mathematically out, so every point counts."