A mid-March game between the Islanders and Devils with playoff implications may have seemed far-fetched back in November, but Saturday's contest was just that. And Islanders head 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 overtime game-winner, the usually-diplomatic Capuano blasted officials for what he felt was a shameful display for a game with so much on the line.
The Devils entered Saturday's game eight points behind the 8th-place Rangers; the Islanders entered ten points back.
"We got no respect tonight," said a seething Capuano. "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 the Islanders off was the uncharacteristic 10-minute misconduct penalty against mild-mannered Frans Nielsen at 11:33 in the third. Nielsen told Newsday he lost his cool after hearing NJ's David Clarkson repeatedly insult Capuano from the ice. Without Nielsen, they were 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 continued. "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,” Capuano 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 ten minutes. To me, that’s a lack of respect.”
Capuano also questioned a third-period hooking call on defenseman Jack Hillen. Nielsen was assessed the misconduct after a hooking penalty sent Travis Hamonic to the box.
Blake Comeau tallied his 20th 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 game in the third.
After Michael Grabner was blanked on a solo breakaway against goaltender Martin Brodeur, David Clarkson knotted the teams at 2 on the other end.
Clarkson was given credit for pushing through his own rebound, but it caught Blake Comeau’s glove before it dribbled in at 5:42.
Salmela’s first of the season gave the Devils a vital two points with the 8th place Rangers slated to face San Jose on the West Coast later in the evening. Because of Buffalo’s 4-3 regulation loss to Toronto, the Islanders are now only nine points out of eighth. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Islanders have not been within single digits of playoff contention since November 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.”