There are no more flowery euphemisms to disguise the Islanders’ playoff chances. Those chances are no longer unlikely, bleak, or improbable. They are non-existent.
But in the first game since being mathematically eliminated, the Islanders displayed mettle and moxie in a remarkable third-period comeback to topple the Canadiens in a 4-3 shootout, preventing the Habs from a potential playoff clinch..
And even though the Islanders missed a playoff berth for the third consecutive year, the team is hardly cloaked in disappointment.
Not only have the Islanders made a formidable push heading into the last three games of the season—they have won five of the last six—they have displayed the resolve and perseverance lacking at the end of last season, when they dropped 10 of their last 12 games including four straight to putter out of 2008-09.
“The competitiveness we have now versus last year, it’s a lot greater,” coach Scott Gordon said.
That competitiveness was irrepressible in the third period last night, when the Islanders twice erased one-goal deficits to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Trailing 2-1, Sean Bergenheim danced around Habs defensemen Roman Hamrlik and sent a searing slapshot past goaltender Jaroslav Halak to tie the game at 2:01 in the third.
Even after the Habs hopped ahead with Maxim Lapierre’s backhanded breakaway goal at 6:20, the Islanders refuse to give the Canadiens an EZ-Pass to the playoffs.
With only 2:01 remaining, Frans Nielsen lifted one past goaltender Halak to tie the game at 3. Bergenheim, who also collected an assist on his backhanded, no-look feed to Blake Comeau in the first period, picked up his third point on the play en route to his finest game of the season.
After facing unrealistic playoff hopes in recent weeks, the Islanders last remaining breath of hope was extinguished Monday, when Boston earned a point in their overtime loss to Washington to officially terminate the Islanders from playoff contention.
Despite the news, however, Gordon said he didn’t expect his team’s play to taper.
“I don't think our players think that just because we're eliminated they can change the way they play,” Gordon said.
And last night it didn't. Not even against a Montreal team on the verge of clinching a post-season bid.
“I think we've played a lot of teams that are desperate--Philadelphia, Calgary, Ottawa--I think we take some pride in not letting those teams get wins,” leading goal-scorer Matt Moulson said, before giving the Isles a 1-0 edge in the shootout.
Nielsen also scored in the shootout, while Martin Biron blanked both Lapierre and Cammalleri for his third straight win.
“Sometimes when teams or players are struggling it doesn’t seem that there is a compete level or a battle level. For us, it doesn’t matter where we are in the standings or what the situation is,” rookie John Tavares said. “We have character guys who will play hard no matter what. Those are the type of guys you want on the team.”
So maybe there wasn't much at stake for the Islanders in last night's game. But the players still care about pride and professionalism.
And that is no surprise to Gordon.
“All year long our team has competed hard,” he said. “We may have been out-talented some nights, but I don't think there have been too many nights where we have been out-battled and out-worked, and there's no reason for that to change now.”
Notes and Quotes: Comeau, who tallied his 17th goal of the season and fifth in four games last night, left the game with a foot injury and did not return. He’s expected to be re-evaluated today. Bruno Gervais missed his fifth straight game since suffering a groin strain against Calgary March 25.