The Islanders’ game against the Flyers Sunday night will determine their matchup.
Hold off on those Florida plans, Islanders fans, at least for another day.
The Isles would have sealed the first playoff matchup in franchise history against the Atlantic Division champion Panthers with a regulation loss on Saturday night, but John Tavares’ late game-tying goal forced overtime in a 4-3 OT loss to Buffalo at Barclays Center.
Both the Isles’ and Rangers’ playoff opponents will be determined Sunday night in the regular-season finale against locked-in No.8 seed Philadelphia. The Isles (100 points) will play Pittsburgh with a victory and Florida with any kind of loss, with the Blueshirts (101) facing the other team.
“We’ll play and see what happens. Whatever we get, it’s two incredibly good and tough teams,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “I don’t really know who fits us better. We’ll play the game and see who we get.”
Islanders coach Jack Capuano, as expected, rested a few banged-up regulars Saturday night — and likely will do so again Sunday — although a couple of key players are moving towards returning.
Significantly, workhorse defenseman Travis Hamonic participated in the morning skate with an eye on returning early in the postseason. He missed his fifth straight game since taking a knee-to-knee hit against Columbus on March 31.
Starting goalie Jaroslav Halak – out with a groin injury since March 8 — also was back on the ice after practice, although he still isn’t expected to be ready at the start of the first round.
“Guys want to get back in, they don’t want to keep sitting out until the playoffs start, but we have to do what’s best for our team,” Capuano said. “That’s what really comes first, is our hockey club.”
Defensemen Thomas Hickey and Marek Zidlicky and forwards Anders Lee (broken leg), Mikhail Grabovsky (concussion), Matt Martin (shoulder), Cal Clutterbuck (undisclosed) and Nikolay Kulemin (rested) also didn’t play Saturday.
“Obviously those guys, all of them, are big parts of the team,” captain John Tavares said. “We really count on them… but obviously it’s an opportunity for someone, and you’ve got look at it as a chance to grasp and run with it.”
Adam Pelech, Alan Quine and Bracken Kearns were recalled from AHL Bridgeport as emergency reinforcements and contributed, with Quine (shorthanded) and another recent call-up, Scott Mayfield, netting their first NHL goals.
Ex-Islander Matt Moulson and rookie Evan Rodrigues scored second-period goals before Brian Gionta snapped a 2-2 tie 5:57 into the third for the Sabres. Tavares potted his 33rd of the season with 6:26 remaining, but Gionta beat Christopher Gibson again 2:46 into overtime.
“We’re not laying down by any means. We’re playing,” Capuano said. “But we know we have to do the right thing now for our hockey club.”