The Islanders are still alive. Barely. Behind Jaroslav Halak, they shutout the Hurricanes 3-0 in Raleigh Thursday night. The resurgent goalie who replaced Thomas Greiss by regaining his job made 29 saves. If they do somehow make the playoffs, they can thank Halak, who has come back with a vengeance.
Early goals by Brock Nelson (19th) and Scott Mayfield 3:12 apart with the latter off relentless pressure set the tone. Halak was strong in a busy second stopping 15 shots as Carolina tried to come back. His goaltending has been the key with John Tavares out for the rest of the regular season.
Andrew Ladd tacked on his 22nd on the power play 39 seconds into the third from Josh Bailey (41 assists) and Nick Leddy. Ladd’s had a strong second half after doing virtually nothing under former coach Jack Capuano. If he didn’t turn it around, it would’ve been a bust of a first year after signing a long-term deal to replace Kyle Okposo. Speaking of Okposo, our thoughts and prayers are with him. They don’t know what’s wrong. But hopefully, he will make a full recovery in Buffalo. Scary stuff.
The Islanders are still alive due to the Lightning winning in Toronto to stay alive themselves. The Maple Leafs could’ve clinched their first playoff berth in four years at home. Instead, they pissed it away by losing to the desperate Bolts 4-1 at Air Canada Centre. Brayden Point tallied twice and Nikita Kucherov scored his 39th to spoil the party in Toronto.
With two more home games on the final weekend against playoff contenders Pittsburgh and Columbus, it won’t come easy. While neither has anything to play for, don’t expect them to roll over. The way the Pens are playing without Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin is scary. They blitzed the Devils 7-4 with Sidney Crosby and Co. torturing New Jersey, who should wind up with a good draft pick in the top 4 this June.
The pressure is squarely on the young Leafs. They finish the season with four games at home having already dropped the first two in succession 4-1 to the Caps and Lightning. Both Tampa and the Islanders are still in play with two games left. Each have 90 points. The Lightning must stave off elimination Friday at Montreal. If they do, then Sunday’s home game against the Sabres could mean something.
The Islanders will visit the Devils Saturday in an emotional game for Patrik Elias. They then will host the Senators in Brooklyn Sunday. They can’t worry about what happens with the Leafs. Especially with Ottawa clinching last night by posting a 2-1 shootout win at Boston to get to 96 points. The Bruins have 95.
If the Leafs do lose out and the Islanders and Lightning win out, it would be the Isles who make it due to the tiebreak if the ROW holds. New York has 37 ROW to Tampa’s 36. The Leafs have 38 ROW. But that doesn’t matter. A win and they’re in, eliminating the Islanders and Lightning once and for all.
In other news, Brad Marchand was suspended two games for his vicious spearing major on Jake Gotchin, who played Thursday. I kinda knew already from a source that it would only be two games. I guess the NHL just doesn’t have the guts to give Marchand a game off to start the playoffs.