Reaching the playoffs is always the first goal of any season.
Now the Islanders can set their sights higher.
They clinched their third straight postseason berth with a second straight dominant performance over the Rangers, earning a 3-0 win on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 1,400 in what likely was the teams’ final matchup at Nassau Coliseum.
"Today was a big game for us," said Semyon Varlamov, who made 28 saves in his fourth shutout of the Rangers this season. It extended his shutout streak to a team-record 213:56, breaking Chico Resch’s old mark of 178:29 set in 1975-76.
He added, "We played fast. We scored first, we set the tone and we never slowed down. We play like that, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games. That was a great game."
Varlamov, who leads the NHL with seven shutouts, had 25 saves in Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Anthony Beauvillier scored twice, continuing his personal dominance of the Rangers with 13 goals and 10 assists in 21 career games against them.
The Islanders had not earned three straight playoff berths since 2002-04.
"Really proud of the group," coach Barry Trotz said. "They’re a very committed group. They take a lot of pride. This group wanted to get back to winning ways."
The Islanders had gone two seasons without qualifying when Trotz was hired in 2018.
They reached the second round in 2019 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2020, when the playoffs were delayed until the summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic and played in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
"This season has been a long playoff run because of the importance of every game," Trotz said of the 56-game regular season played entirely within the division. "And we’re not done. The group wanted to tick this off, get in the playoffs and then try to finish as high as we can. In the playoffs, it’s a new season."
The Islanders (31-15-5) are in third place in the East Division, two points behind the Capitals and four behind the first-place Penguins, who have played one extra game.
The fourth-place Bruins, who have played one fewer game, trail the Islanders by one point.
The Islanders have five regular-season games remaining, two each against the Sabres and Devils, the East’s distant bottom-dwellers, before the finale in Boston on May 10.
The next goal is to try to secure home-ice advantage for at least one round. The Islanders are 20-3-3 at the Coliseum.
"It’s something all four teams are going to be looking to get," said Josh Bailey, who had three assists. "We’re just going to try and go out and take care of business. If that’s the way it works out, we’ll be happy about it.
"Once you get to the postseason, it’s not talked about one way or another, whether you have home ice or not. It’s something we’re going to work hard and do the right things and win these next few games and not really worry a whole lot about that."
"The main focus is the playoffs," Varlamov said. "We have a goal. We’re just excited about the future and playing in the playoffs."
The Islanders carried over their strong play from Thursday’s shutout with a strong start, as Casey Cizikas’ identity-setting fourth line with Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin hemmed the Rangers in their zone on the first shift.
Beauvillier opened the scoring at 4:39, snapping off a shot from the right circle off Bailey’s feed.
Bailey, with a soft push of the puck in the defensive zone after a Rangers turnover, sprung Mathew Barzal for a breakaway backhander to make it 2-0 at 16:22.
Beauvillier made it 3-0 at 1:02 of the second period, giving him five goals and three assists in his last six games.
"I really enjoy playing the Rangers," he said. "They’re always big games."
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