If they fall short in their bid for a postseason, the Islanders will look back on the past 24 hours in California. A night removed from a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime defeat to Saku Koivu and Anaheim, the Long Island club was blanked by Los Angeles 1-zip at Staples Center. Jon Quick turned aside all 26 in backstopping the Kings past Scott Gordon's club- dealing them a second consecutive tough loss.
Unlike Friday when the roof caved in with the team blowing a 4-2 third period lead before Koivu won it 14 seconds into OT, the Islanders never led against another desperate club attempting to qualify for their first postseason since 2001-02. Terry Murray's bunch entered with 85 points- four better than Calgary and Detroit, who pulled off another magic rabbit out of the hat in a thriller against Vancouver courtesy of Henrik Zetterberg. With Nashville also pulling out a 1-0 OT decision in Columbus, the pressure was on LA to hold serve. Thanks to Brad Richardson's tally midway through the first period, Quick was able to make it stand up, moving the Kings past the Preds into fifth out West with 87 points. One better than idle Colorado, who fell to seventh with the Wings three back and ninth Calgary five out.
While that was good news for their opponent, it sure did nothing for the Islanders who remained at 68 points tied with red hot Carolina, who came back to beat Pittsburgh courtesy of Jamie McBain's OT winner with under a second left moving them into a three-way 11th place tie with the Lightning (3-1 loss to Caps) and Isles. Technically, Gordon's club ranks 13th by virtue of one more game played (72-71). Trailing eighth Boston by six with only 10 left, they'll actually have to root for the Rangers later today in the NBC Of The Week. They'll need the enemy to win in regulation. Go figure. While March Madness is taking place in another sport, there's plenty of madness going on in the NHL where you had Calgary fans rooting for the Canucks tonight to no avail.
No doubt these are desperate times for a young Islander team led by rookie John Tavares, whose five-point game in a win over those Nucks a few nights ago gave them life in this wacky race. If only they'd held onto that two-goal lead a night before, which ultimately saw a furious Gordon walk out of a press conference following the dreaded third period question. Sure. They got a point but at this pressure packed time of year, you need every single one. Especially with the wins tiebreaker. Their 29 victories are two less than Boston, the Rangers and Atlanta, who go Niclas Bergfors' 20th (7th as a Thrasher) in a 5-2 home triumph over Philadelphia to pull within a point of the Bruins.
The odds are stacked against them but stranger things have happened. Aside from Carolina, nobody's playing well. If the Isles can put together one more good stretch, who knows? They don't play again until Wednesday's Garden 3D clash against the Rangers before returning home for a tough back-to-back against Calgary. They'll then visit Columbus before seeing the Blueshirts once more on March 30. In other words, those games will have even more significance. Of a possible 20 points that could take them to a max of 88, they'll likely need to go 8-1-1 to give themselves a realistic chance. Not bad for a team written off before the season in Year 1 Of JT91. Believe it or not, 85 could do it for that final spot. In '02-03, under the guidance of Peter Laviolette, the Islanders squeezed out 83 to hold off the Rangers.
Can a similar miracle take place? While they'll need plenty of help, the Islanders will need to play their best hockey. One point will no longer do. And zero like they got Saturday are a no no. Sure. They competed hard against a solid team who also want to steal some of the spotlight from Kobe's Lakers. But despite coming close with Tavares setting up Kyle Okposo on the doorstep with nine seconds left, it wasn't enough.
Unfortunately, Richardson's lone tally stood up. The only goal was set up by Wayne Simmonds, who dug out a loose puck and found his teammate in the slot for a wrister which beat Dwayne Roloson at 13:35 of the first. The Isles did get chances but weren't able to solve Quick, who also got help from his best friend the goalpost on a Tavares shot early in the second. Late in the stanza, the rookie had another glorious chance denied when his backhand was shutdown by the sprawling Kings' netminder. It was that kind of night.
“We had some glorious opportunities, but they got the best of us,”a disappointed former King and leading Islander finisher Matt Moulson expressed. “One big mistake cost us the game.”Roloson, who played a stellar game himself turning aside 25 of 26, thwarted Jarrett Stoll's shorthanded bid to keep it a one-goal deficit with under 16 minutes remaining. It wasn't a good night for the Islander power play which fired blanks in four chances against a hot PK that's now killed 24 straight.
“The penalty kill is just really about work and execution,” LA captain Dustin Brown said. “We’ve kind of gotten into a groove with short shifts.”For New York, it would come down to the wire with Gordon pulling Roloson for an extra skater with over a minute to go. The Kings killed most of it with stellar work in the neutral zone. However, finally a Mark Streit dump with under 35 ticks left gave his teammates a chance to recover the puck along the right wall. A great hustle play by Richard Park kept it alive where Tavares got the biscuit behind the net and quickly threaded a no-look backhand feed to Okposo. But Friday's multi-goal scorer couldn't beat Quick, who was in perfect position to snuff out the dangerous opportunity.
Needing to win the draw for one last shot, the Isles couldn't as LA won the puck and cleared the zone as time wound down- dealing them another hard defeat. Now, they become spectators and will have to hope for help from the Rangers until they meet Wednesday. Insanity.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Brad Richardson, LA (game-winner-11th of season, 0 goals in '09-10)
2nd Star-Dwayne Roloson, NYI (25 saves in 45th start of season)
1st Star-Jon Quick, LA (26 saves for 4th SHO of season-8th career)