WASHINGTON — The Islanders took the safest path to securing home-ice advantage in their upcoming first-round playoff series against the Penguins, one that was symbolic of their historic defensive turnaround this season.
Needing only a point in their regular-season finale against the Capitals on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, the Islanders got two in a 3-0 win.
“It’s going to be really fun,” said goalie Robin Lehner, who made 29 saves to extend his career high with his sixth shutout. “We really wanted home ice. We’ve seen how special the Coliseum has been and the fans. It’s going to be a good series. They’re a good team. It’s going to be a good challenge. If we stick to our game, I like our chances.”
It’s the first time since 1988 that the Islanders will have home-ice advantage for a series. First-round playoff games will be played at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum; all subsequent rounds would be at Barclays Center.
The NHL playoffs will open Wednesday and the full schedule will be released Sunday.
The Islanders will play Games 1 and 2 — and 5 and 7, if necessary — at the venerable barn, which most recently hosted a playoff game in 2015.
“It’s huge,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “The Coliseum gets rocking and, come playoffs, it’s going to be another level. To have that, and our advantage, is huge.”
Third-line center Valtteri Filppula, back in the lineup after missing eight games with a hyperextended left elbow, scored twice for the Islanders (48-27-7).
They finished in second place with 103 points, the franchise’s most since 1984, which was the last time they went to the Stanley Cup Final.
Pheonix Copley made 18 saves for the Capitals (48-26-8), who clinched first place on Thursday night and rested key regulars John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
“We talked about it before the game. Let’s not cheat our teammates; let’s not cheat the process,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup last season. “We wanted to go the distance. We wanted to play the right way the whole year and not worry about the results. The results will come.”
Though they lost in overtime to the Rangers, 4-3, the Penguins locked up third place when they earned a point by forcing the OT. The Hurricanes were looking to move ahead of the Penguins but fell one point short despite a 4-3 win over the Flyers.
The Capitals will play the Hurricanes. That winner will face the winner of the Islanders-Penguins series in the division final.
The Islanders relied on the stifling defense that has fueled their turnaround after they allowed 293 goals last season, the most in the NHL since 2007.
Lehner, the likely Game 1 starter, and Thomas Greiss will share the Jennings Trophy as the Islanders allowed a league-low 196 goals. The Islanders are the first team since the Ottawa Senators in 1918-19 to go from worst to first in that category. “We didn’t start cheating,” Pulock said. “We just stuck with it.”
Filppula gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 2:55 of the second period on a breakaway after being sprung by defenseman Devon Toews.
He then got to the crease and redirected defenseman Adam Pelech’s feed to make it 2-0 at 10:54 of the third period. Matt Martin added an empty-netter at 17:27.
“It’s been a fun year so far,” said Lehner, now sober and healthy after battling addiction and mental-health issues. “It’s been a long season, but it’s a heck of a group in here and it’s helped me. It’s going to be really fun going into the playoffs. It’s been a roller-coaster year.”