SUNRISE, Fla. — The playoff picture became clearer for the Islanders on Thursday night.
After a 2-1 win over the Panthers in a four-round shootout at BB&T Center, they still can finish either second or third in the Metropolitan Division and will face either the Penguins or the Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs.
The Capitals clinched the division title with a 2-1 win over the visiting Canadiens on Thursday night.
The Islanders, headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, will end their season at Washington on Saturday and can clinch home-ice advantage in the first round — regardless of what the Penguins do against the Rangers — by earning one point.
“It would have been fun to play Saturday for the division,” Mathew Barzal said. “For it to be this tight all season, it was a fun race. Washington is one of the best teams in the league, if not Stanley Cup favorites. For us to be in the hunt with them is a credit to how good our season has been.”
The Islanders (47-27-7) remain two points ahead of the Penguins, who beat the visiting Red Wings, 4-1, on Thursday night.
The Isles and Penguins are tied in ROW wins with 42 and are tied in the season series, but Pittsburgh would have the advantage if the tiebreaker went to goal differential. The Hurricanes are four points behind the Islanders after a 3-1 win over the visiting Devils but still can beat out the Penguins for third place.
The Islanders-Capitals and Rangers-Penguins games both will start at 7 p.m. Saturday. If the Rangers beat the Penguins, even in overtime or a shootout, the Islanders could lose in regulation and still finish second.
“Having that first round back at the Coliseum, the atmosphere there is second to none,” said Brock Nelson, who gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the second period and scored the lone goal in the shootout. “We want to secure that and we want to take advantage of that. It’s only for one round, so we’d like to have home ice for that.”
The Islanders will play subsequent rounds at Barclays Center.
The NHL playoffs will open on Wednesday. The Islanders haven’t had home-ice advantage for a playoff series since 1988, which was the last time they finished first in their division, and they entered Thursday with the possibility of finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the division.
“We didn’t want to fall to a wild-card position,” Barry Trotz said. “We still wanted to have that hope that we can battle the last game with Washington, but we’ve still got something to play for. That’s good for our group to learn to play for something. It’s easy to play for nothing.”
If the Panthers were playing loose, they kept the game against the Islanders tight.
Thomas Greiss made 29 saves for the Islanders. The Panthers (36-32-13) finally tied the score at 1-1 at 12:45 of the third period as Keith Yandle sprung Jonathan Huberdeau for a power-play goal with defenseman Thomas Hickey in the penalty box for the second time in the game. Goalie Sam Montembeault (35 saves) had the secondary assist.
Nelson’s one-timer from the slot off Michael Dal Colle’s feed from the left boards gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 1:50 of the second period.
The Islanders outshot the Panthers 17-4 in the first period, though they had few quality chances. But they needed a video review to overturn Aleksander Barkov’s apparent tip-in goal at the buzzer as they escaped a brutal last-minute sequence.
Jordan Eberle turned the puck over and the Islanders then couldn’t clear their zone, leading to Huberdeau’s slap shot off the crossbar at 19:57.