The Islanders all said Saturday’s tight-checking, low-scoring game against the Bruins was as close to a playoff game as they’ve had all season.
It doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes that they came up short.
Failing on all six power plays, the Islanders dropped a 2-1 decision to the Bruins in a sold-out Barclays Center to fall two points back of Boston for the final East playoff berth with eight games to go. The Islanders hold a game in hand, but this one stings, given what was at stake.
“I can’t sit here and say we played a terrible game,” Travis Hamonic said after the Islanders put just 19 shots on Bruins backup Anton Khudobin — to just 18 Bruins shots on Thomas Greiss. “We had our opportunities and you’d love to win a big game like this. Win or lose, though, this wasn’t deciding the playoff spot. We still have eight left.”
But the crowd of teams behind them in the playoff chase is starting to breathe on the Isles’ necks again.
The Lightning remains a point back of the Isles and the Hurricanes are three back with a game in hand. So a win in Saturday night’s grind of a game would have given the Islanders a good cushion heading into the final two weeks.
Instead, Riley Nash’s second goal of the night at 4:12 of the third stood up as the winner. The Islanders had two power plays after falling behind and John Tavares, who had the lone goal in the first, rang a potential tying goal off the crossbar off a nifty feed from Josh Ho-Sang, who was one of the few Islanders to find open space on the night.
“I had a couple looks on the power play, you’d obviously love to see one of those go in,” said Tavares, who had four of the Isles’ 19 shots on goal. “One off the bar and one off (Khudobin’s) shoulder that he didn’t even see.”
Tavares’ goal at 10:05 of the first came off a terrific solo move into the Boston zone. Just 36 seconds later Scott Mayfield couldn’t chip a puck past a solid Bruins wall of forwards at the Isles line and Nash cruised in to beat Greiss on a 2 on 1.
“Nine times out of 10 that puck gets through,” Doug Weight said. “You can look at Mayfield, but look at the forwards that were up the ice there. You’ve got to know where we’re supposed to be.”
Neither team generated much through the second and third, even after Nash’s goal. With a sixth attacker on late the Isles didn’t get a shot through to Khudobin, who started due to an injury to Bruins No. 1 Tuukka Rask, leaving the Islanders on the outside looking in once more.
“Last I checked, we still have a game in hand on them,” Hamonic said. “There’s still time.”
Time begins to get short when the Predators visit Barclays Center on Monday. The Bruins host Nashville the following night, so the Islanders must get back to winning any way they can, as they did in beating the Rangers and Penguins this week.
Of the Islanders’ final eight games, two are against the Predators and one, the season finale, against the Senators. The other five are against teams out of the playoff picture, so there is indeed time.
“If we’re going to hang our heads because we didn’t get this one . . . We’re right there still,” Tavares said. “We’ll keep battling to the end.”