Islanders Secure Playoff Berth
Sunday, April 8, 2007; 7:36 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Islanders were pushed to the limit to earn the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders needed a 3-2 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday to complete a sweep of their final four games and earn a first-round showdown with the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres.
"We didn't lose any hope," Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt said. "We could've easily said, 'Oh, it's not meant to be.' But guys battled hard in overtime and got us out in the shootout."
The win triggered a wild on-ice celebration by the Islanders, seemingly out of the Stanley Cup hunt one week ago. They regrouped in front of third-string goalie Wade Dubielewicz to edge the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last playoff berth on the final day of the regular season.
Toronto finished its season Saturday night with a 6-5 win over the Montreal Canadiens. The Maple Leafs had 91 points, one more than the Islanders.
The Islanders mission was simple: win, and they were in the playoffs.
Despite squandering a 2-0 lead in the third period, the Islanders beat the Devils in the shootout. Miroslav Satan and Viktor Kozlov, the first two shooters, scored for New York and Dubielewicz made poke saves on Brian Gionta and Sergei Brylin to send the Islanders into the postseason.
Once again, Dubielewicz was the hero. The 28-year-old goalie, playing in only his 17th NHL game, improved his record to 4-1 since being called up from the minors on March 27. The Islanders turned to him out of desperation when Mike Dunham struggled after replacing Rick DiPietro, who was sidelined for the final seven games with a concussion.
In regulation, the Islanders got two goals by Richard Park. Dubielewicz made 22 saves through regulation and overtime before making the two crucial stops in the shootout.
The Islanders caught a break when the Devils rested ironman goalie Martin Brodeur, 6-1 against the Islanders with three shutouts this season. Scott Clemmensen got the call, making only his fourth start of the season.
Devils general manager and coach Lou Lamoriello didn't listen to critics who suggested Brodeur should have played _ given the magnitude of the game for the Islanders and Maple Leafs.
"We have to do what is best for our hockey club," Lamoriello said. "I don't want to be derogatory, but you can not think any other way."