The Islanders playoff picture came more into focus on Friday, but their potential for a sustained run in the postseason might have taken a serious hit.
The Isles’ 3-1 victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh put them back into the win column and cemented the Capitals as their first-round opponent in the playoffs. But the win was soured after Travis Hamonic left with an injury.
The defenseman was hit along the boards by Pittsburgh’s Rob Scuderi late in the first period and quickly limped off the ice and to the locker room with an undisclosed injury. Hamonic is arguably the team’s best defender, leading the Isles with 22 minutes played per game. He’s also had a career year offensively with 33 points (five goals, 28 assists).
The Pens appeared to jump out to an early lead with a power-play goal from Patric Hornqvist, who seemed to deflect the puck past Jaroslav Halak at 7:52. The no-goal call on the ice was reviewed and maintained by Toronto, after the replay was ruled inconclusive.
Casey Cizikas won the ensuing face-off for the short-handed Islanders and played the puck back to Nick Leddy behind the goal line extended. Leddy moved the puck to Cal Clutterbuck below the left circle, who fired a perfect tape-to-tape pass to Cizikas in the neutral zone. Cizikas took off on a breakaway and beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for his ninth goal of the season eight minutes into the first. The Isles were outshot 17-5 in the period, but still took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Scuderi scored for the first time in 180 games with just 5.7 seconds left in the second period to knot things at 1-1, but John Tavares put the Isles back ahead with his 37th goal of the season at 2:46 of the third. Michael Grabner put the nail in the coffin with a breakaway goal with 3:40 to play in regulation.
Halak rebounded from his gaffe in Philadelphia on Tuesday night with a brilliant 37 save performance. Tavares and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby enter Saturday’s league-wide season finale tied for the league lead with 84 points. Should the two finish tied, Tavares would win the Art Ross Trophy because he has has more goals.
Saturday night’s game against the Blue Jackets will be the Isles final regular season contest at Nassau Coliseum. The Isles can still clinch home ice against the Caps with a win and a Washington loss to the Rangers.
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