WASHINGTON — Saturday night’s regular-season finale against the Capitals won’t be the hoped-for showdown for the Metropolitan Division title, but that does not lessen the game’s importance to the Islanders.
“It’s going to be a big test for us,” rookie Michael Dal Colle said. “We want to send a message going into the playoffs.”
There’s also the more tangible factor of finally learning the identity of their playoff opponent and whether they will have home-ice advantage at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum in the first round.
The Islanders’ 2-1 four-round shootout win at Florida on Thursday night guaranteed that they can finish no lower than third in the division and that they will play the Penguins or the Hurricanes in the first round. The Capitals clinched their fourth straight division title with a 2-1 win over the visiting Canadiens on Thursday night. The NHL playoffs open on Wednesday.
The Islanders, in the playoffs for the first time since 2016, will clinch second place and home-ice advantage in the first round if they earn at least one point against the Capitals or if the Rangers win at Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Islanders will slip to third if they lose in regulation and the Penguins win.
The Hurricanes can move into third place if they win at Philadelphia on Saturday and the Penguins lose in regulation. The second- and third-place finishers will meet in the first round and the fourth-place finisher will play the Capitals.
The Islanders’ last division title came in 1988. A win over Washington would give them 103 points, their most since 1984.
“We had a great season. We played really good hockey,” forward Leo Komarov said. “You want to be in first all the time, but in the playoffs, you still have to be the best team, so it really doesn’t matter who you play. We’ve just got to finish strong here and hope to get home-ice advantage.”
Coach Barry Trotz said he is not concerned if the Islanders open the playoffs on the road.
“We don’t change the way we play home or away,” he said. “Some teams do. Some teams need that matchup. Would we like home-ice advantage? Yes, we would for our fans.”
“It’d be nice to have home ice,” center Mathew Barzal said. “We’re trying to play the right way. You have to go through Washington at some point, so it’s a good game to end on just to prep ourselves for the playoffs. Whether they play all their guys or not, it will be an intense game.”
Both Trotz and Capitals counterpart Todd Reirden were noncommittal as to whether they will rest players. Trotz had defenseman Thomas Hickey in Thursday’s lineup for Johnny Boychuk. Thomas Greiss made 29 saves after Robin Lehner missed Wednesday’s practice because of soreness.
Trotz has not announced his goalie plans for the playoffs, but it will be somewhat surprising if Lehner isn’t the Game 1 starter. If so, Trotz probably will want to start Lehner against the Capitals.
The Islanders can clinch home-ice advantage in the first round — regardless of what the Penguins do Saturday against the Rangers — by earning one point. 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 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. The Hurricanes are four points behind the Islanders but still can beat out the Penguins for third place. -- Andrew Gross