There are no more flowery euphemisms to disguise the Islanders' playoff chances. Those chances are no longer unlikely, bleak, or improbable. They are nonexistent.
But in the first game since being mathematically eliminated, the Islanders displayed mettle and moxie in a remarkable third-period comeback to topple the Canadiens in a 4-3 shootout, preventing the Habs from a potential playoff clinch.
And even though the Islanders missed a playoff berth for the third consecutive year, the team is hardly cloaked in disappointment.
Not only have the Islanders made a formidable push heading into the last three games of the season - they have won five of six - they have displayed the resolve and perseverance lacking at the end of last season, when they dropped 10 of their last 12 games including four straight.
"The competitiveness we have now versus last year, it's a lot greater," coach Scott Gordon said.
That competitiveness was irrepressible in the third period last night, when the Islanders twice erased one-goal deficits to tie it and send it into overtime
Trailing 2-1, Sean Bergenheim danced around Habs defensemen Roman Hamrlik and sent a searing slapshot past goaltender Jaroslav Halak to tie it at 2:01 in the third. But even after the Habs hopped ahead with Maxim Lapierre's backhanded breakaway goal at 6:20, the Islanders refused to give the Canadiens an E-Z Pass to the playoffs.
With only 2:01 remaining, Frans Nielsen lifted one past Halak to tie the score at 3. Bergenheim, who also collected an assist on his backhanded, no-look feed to Blake Comeau in the first period, picked up his third point on the play en route to his finest game of the season.
After facing unrealistic playoff hopes recently, the Islanders' last remaining breath was extinguished Monday, when Boston earned a point in an overtime loss to Washington.
Despite the news, however, Gordon said he didn't expect his team's play to taper. "I don't think our players think that just because we're eliminated they can change the way they play," Gordon said.
"I think we've played a lot of teams that are desperate - Philadelphia, Calgary, Ottawa - I think we take some pride in not letting those teams get wins," Matt Moulson said, before giving the Isles a 1-0 edge in the shootout. Nielsen also scored in the shootout, while Martin Biron denied both Lapierre and Mike Cammalleri.
"All year long our team has competed hard," Gordon said. "We may have been out-talented some nights, but I don't think there have been too many nights where we have been out-battled and outworked, and there's no reason for that to change now."
Notes & quotes: Comeau, who tallied his 17th goal of the season and fifth in four games, left with a foot injury. He's expected to be re-evaluated today. Bruno Gervais missed his fifth straight game since suffering a groin strain March 25.