NEWARK - The end is near. And the reality set in a long time ago that the Islanders will not be among the 16 teams ascending to NHL playoff heaven.
So all Friday night's 3-2 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils, another team in postseason purgatory, did was summarize 2013-14: A series of crevices, pits and fissures into which the Islanders kept falling. All that is left in this disheartening season is Sunday's game in Buffalo.
It did not feel like a Stanley Cup final, but the shootout had its drama, and some needed uplift, for the Islanders. After Frans Nielsen slipped the first try past crusty old vet Martin Brodeur and New Jersey's Damien Brunner matched that against Anders Nilsson, Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome executed pirouettes to beat Brodeur for the decision.
Bailey said he and Strome didn't discuss the goalmouth dance. "I think it's more that there's no way he was expecting it to happen again," he said.
"I was inspired," Strome said of Bailey's spinning attack. "We worked on that move a little bit in practice."
When 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr lost control of the puck charging in on Nilsson, the shootout win edged the Islanders' record up to 33-37-11.
Nielsen sprung Anders Lee for a 1-0 Islanders lead at 10:04 of the first period, but that lasted only 59 seconds until Ryan Carter's tap-in. Patrik Elias put the Devils ahead with 8.3 seconds left in the first on a left-wing rush. Strome tied it 19 seconds into the third period.
Long past the 2-13-2 November-into-December lull that essentially doomed the Islanders, springtime for them has devolved into a succession of junior varsity games. Alaska native Justin Johnson, difficult to count among their young prospects at 32, Friday night became the eighth Islander to make his NHL debut this season. Right before him was Johan Sundstrom, 21, whose upper-body injury Thursday night necessitated Johnson's call-up from Bridgeport.
No fewer than 12 players in uniform for the Islanders Friday night were born during, or after, Jagr's rookie NHL season in 1990, and these April games might be considered a Petri dish for cultivating young talent. But what might be good for those aspiring pros has not been so good for the team at this point.
The ongoing absence of injured prime movers John Tavares and Kyle Okposo meant the Islanders were missing 51 goals of 2013-14 offense Friday night. That's not counting the 17 goals Thomas Vanek took with him after being traded to Montreal.
So just one more game to go.