PHILADELPHIA - The Islanders are not in the playoffs yet. That's the end result of a wild, weird span of about 45 minutes Tuesday night that's hard to describe without taking a few breaths.
The Isles clawed back from three goals down with 11:39 to play to seemingly get the point they needed to secure a playoff berth, only to see it disappear with mere seconds to go in regulation, ending in a 5-4 loss.
They had to relive that pain at the end of the game in Ottawa a short time later as the Senators pulled even with the Penguins, then won in overtime, leaving the Isles in limbo as they head to the final two games of the regular season.
"We've still got a couple games left. If we do the job, we'll be all right," said Anders Lee, who scored off a beautiful faceoff win and feed from John Tavares with 28 seconds left to tie the game at 4-4, Lee's second goal in the third period. "We came back, but we didn't get it done."
That was because Jaroslav Halak let in a blooper-reel goal with 2.1 seconds to go, a last-moment fling from the boards by Brayden Schenn that somehow got under Halak's right side to snatch a playoff berth from the visitors.
"It hit my stick, I thought I had it inside of me and it was behind me," Halak said. "I gave up a bad goal, obviously I take full responsibility for the loss. We all make mistakes, bad timing for me. I just gotta shake it off and get ready for the next one."
Halak might not have needed to feel so down had the Penguins held on to a 3-0 lead in Ottawa. The Senators' late-season run continued with an overtime winner, meaning the Islanders game in Pittsburgh on Friday has tremendous meaning for both teams, with the Isles ahead of the Penguins by two points and the Penguins ahead of ninth-place Ottawa by a single point.
Schenn's late goal put a huge dent in the Islanders' chances to gain second place in the Metro Division and home ice in the opening round. Instead of where they begin the playoffs next week, the Islanders -- should they lose Friday -- will be worrying far more about simply getting in with a suddenly crowded field clustered around those final playoff berths.
"We have to go out and win these last two games," said Johnny Boychuk, who scored with 1:44 left to pull the Islanders within 4-3. "We have to play our best, that's just what we need to do right now."
They were in that 4-1 hole in the third period thanks to a sluggish start, certainly an eyebrow-raising development given how big this game was for the Islanders and how little it meant to the lottery-bound Flyers. Claude Giroux scored twice in the opening period, Tavares and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare traded second-period goals and the Isles looked defeated when Carlo Colaiacovo scored from the high slot at 2:45 of the third.
But it was Lee, Boychuk and Lee again bringing jubilation to the Isles' bench. It turned to silent shock a few seconds later and the bus ride back to Long Island was surely just as quiet when the Senators pulled their win out.
"You've got to pick up your teammates. Jaro's been great for us all year," said Tavares, who is tied for the NHL scoring lead with a career-high 83 points. "You have to move on."