Bring on the Penguins.
Needing a regulation win to have a chance to finish third in the East Division, the Islanders instead completed their regular season with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Bruins on Monday night at TD Garden in a game with playoff-like physicality, ensuring a first-round matchup with the first-place Penguins.
The Islanders outhit the Bruins 41-25.
"The last few teams we played, we had Buffalo and then New Jersey," said Mathew Barzal, who tied the score at 2 with a rising wrist shot from the slot at 8:31 of the second period. "They were out of the playoffs and the physicality wasn’t there. To get a game like that, against a team that was heavy all game and I thought we were heavy, too, it was really nice to get that feeling back. That competitiveness and a little bit of that hunger, a little bit of that fire right before playoffs."
The NHL playoffs are expected to begin either Saturday or Sunday. The Islanders will play the first two games of the best-of-seven series on the road.
Attendance at Nassau Coliseum will be expanded from 1,400 to approximately 6,800 for the start of the playoffs.
"I think it’s going to be refreshing for the players," coach Barry Trotz said. "I think the fans are going to be crazy. When you’re caged up inside for basically the last year, nothing better than playoff hockey to get some of those emotions out."
Of some concern, though, for the Islanders (32-17-7) was Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 25 of 27 shots before exiting after the second period. Trotz said Varlamov, who appeared uncomfortable as he flexed his legs coming off the ice, suffered a strain.
Trotz said the goalie could have continued had this been a playoff game.
Ilya Sorokin — who was pulled for an extra skater with 1:41 left in the third period as Trotz pushed for the regulation victory — stopped all nine shots in the third, but Taylor Hall beat him at the crease for the winner at 2:53 of overtime. It was Hall’s second goal of the game.
"We have trust in both guys, whoever it’s going to be," defenseman Ryan Pulock said of the two goaltenders. "We’ll have them ready for playoffs."
Varlamov did not dress for a 1-0 loss in Washington on April 27 and later said he was dealing with minor knee soreness. He did beat the Rangers, 4-0, at Madison Square Garden two days later.
He finished the season with a 2.05 goals-against average, breaking Chico Resch’s team record of 2.08 set in 1975-76.
The Islanders, who went 2-4-2 against the Penguins, played them six times in February but have not faced them since acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils on April 7. They swept a first-round series from the Penguins in 2019.
"Every matchup was going to be hard in this division," defenseman Nick Leddy said. "But you look at their year, they’ve been playing excellent. Especially the back half of the year, they’ve been firing on all cylinders.
"I think it will be an awesome challenge. It’s the best time of the year."
The Islanders were outshot 18-4 and outchanced 33-7 in the first period, and Hall made it 1-0 with 38.4 seconds left with a five-on-three power-play goal.
Oliver Wahlstrom’s one-timer from the top of the left circle off Barzal’s feed tied it at 1 at 1:38 of the second period with the Islanders skating four-on-three.
Brad Marchand tipped in David Krejci’s feed to the crease to regain a 2-1 lead for the Bruins at 6:15 of the second period.
The Bruins’ Tuukka Rask made 16 saves.
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