Somehow the Islanders closed out their best season in three decades unable to close out a game they needed to secure home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The Islanders coughed up leads twice in the final 11:23 Saturday night, then coughed up an advantage in the shootout and fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-4, on Cam Atkinson's fourth-round shootout score.
Any scenario in which the Islanders grabbed two points from the finale for the 2014-15 regular season and for Nassau Coliseum would have secured home ice against the Capitals in the first round this week. It would have been the first time the Isles hosted Games 1 and 2 of a playoff series since 1988.
Instead, the Isles will open in Washington and will need to quickly remove the bad taste of a wild, weird loss to end a 101-point season, the franchise's best since 1983-84.
"We're up 3-1 with 10 minutes left, we just have to do the right things, be aware of where guys are," Johnny Boychuk said. "We would love to have home ice, but that's not the case."
It sure seemed that way after third-period goals by Eric Boulton -- his second in five games, both against the Blue Jackets, after not scoring since Dec. 20, 2013 -- and John Tavares 55 seconds apart snapped a 1-1 tie just 3:47 into the third.
The Coliseum, treated to a video tribute and Al Arbour's family dropping the puck before the game, was loud and crazed. Chants of "MVP" for Tavares mingled with chants of "We want home ice!"
But the Islanders, as they did nine days earlier in Columbus, let the lottery-bound Blue Jackets pull even from two goals down. Brandon Dubinsky banked a shot from directly behind the Isles' goal off Josh Bailey's skate, the toe of Jaroslav Halak's pad and in at 9:23 for a lucky goal. Alexander Wennberg's wrist shot past Halak 1:34 later was not lucky; it was the result of poor coverage in the defensive zone.
Columbus goaltender Curtis McElhinney made one of his 48 saves on Tavares off the rush later in the third, but Nikolay Kulemin buried the rebound for a 4-3 Isles lead with 4:24 to go, restoring hopes of home ice.
And again they were dashed. Scott Hartnell jumped into the play as the sixth attacker and snapped a shot through a crowd and past Halak with 1:35 to go, sending the game to overtime and then on to a shootout to decide where the Isles would open the postseason.
Tavares scored on the first attempt. Kyle Okposo, who scored his 18th of the season in the second period, had McElhinney beat but rang a backhand off the post. Wennberg tied it in round three and Atkinson won it, closing out the Coliseum's regular-season life in strangely unhappy fashion.
Another insult came after the game ended: Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars had the last of his four points with less than 10 seconds to play in Dallas, taking the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer from Tavares at 87 points to 86.
"It's disappointing with what happened, but it's what we've got to deal with," Tavares said. "We've got to bounce back. You have to win games on the road if you want to go far in the playoffs."
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