The Islanders got the help they needed.
Now it’s up to them to have the requisite urgency and intensity from the drop of the puck in Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the also-ran Canadiens at UBS Arena knowing just one point will clinch an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
Chicago topped the host Penguins 4-2 on Tuesday night, allowing the Islanders to regain control of their playoff fate after Monday night’s seemingly disastrous 5-2 road loss to the undermanned and out-of-contention Capitals.
Also on Tuesday, the visiting Sabres lost 6-2 to the Devils, eliminating them from playoff contention.
The Islanders hold the second wild-card spot and can finish with a maximum of 93 points. The Panthers, in the first wild-card spot and who clinched a berth with the Penguins’ loss, can get to 94 points with a win on Thursday night against the Hurricanes. The Penguins, who finish against the lottery-bound Blue Jackets on Thursday night, can only get to 92 points and the Islanders own the first tiebreaker of more regulation wins.
Yet it was just four games ago the Hurricanes’ Rod Brind’Amour opined his team showed more desperation in a match the Islanders needed to win. The Islanders’ players discounted the notion he was taking a dig at them, instead insisting it was a coach praising his own squad.
But Brind’Amour did point out reality. And the deficiency surfaced again Monday as the Capitals effectively won the game with two goals in the first 63 seconds and three in the first period.
“I don’t think so,” Casey Cizikas said when asked after Monday’s defeat whether the Islanders played with enough urgency early. “We have to know what’s at stake and we have to know what we’re playing for.”
The Islanders wound up out-chancing the Capitals 94-49. Darcy Kuemper made 38 saves and the Capitals blocked 27 shots.
“Other than the start, I thought we played well,” Cizikas said. “That’s the part that really bothers me. We’ve just got to find a better start.”
Coach Lane Lambert also agreed his team didn’t have enough intensity at the start.
But Zach Parise wasn’t buying the lack of urgency explanation.
“The urgency’s always there for us,” Parise said. “I think that’s thrown around a little loosely. You can never convince me that we weren’t urgent and we weren’t ready to play. They just got a few early. I wouldn’t say that we didn’t have urgency. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Still it left the Islanders needing help from other teams, like they got with former captain John Tavares’ overtime winner for the Maple Leafs in a 2-1 road victory over the Panthers on Monday night that kept the Panthers from clinching a wild-card spot.
Missing the playoffs for a second straight season would be an unmitigated disaster for the Islanders and president/general manager Lou Lamoriello, who gambled his aging core of players were still good enough and fired Barry Trotz to promote Lambert. Ownership, too, as it would be two seasons without a playoff game since UBS Arena opened.