Islanders Grab Final NHL Playoff Spot

Monday, April 9th 2007, 7:35 am
By: News On 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Less than 24 hours after Toronto's stirring win over Montreal eliminated the Canadiens and kept the Islanders and Maple Leafs alive, the New York Islanders won a thrilling 3-2 shootout at New Jersey on Sunday to capture the last available playoff spot in the NHL postseason.

The Maple Leafs could only sit home and watch the Islanders give Toronto hope by allowing the tying goal with less than a second remaining and then snatch it away on the game's final shot on the season's final day.

``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.''

That capped a week in which the Islanders won their final four games and leapfrogged idle Toronto and Montreal on Sunday to finish eighth in the Eastern Conference.

``Our fate was in their hands and their fate was in our hands,'' Islanders forward Ryan Smyth said. ``We seemed to find an extra edge. Every team that is out of the playoffs would love to be in the position that we were in and have that chance. We made the most of it.''

The Islanders took a 2-0 lead on a pair of goals by Richard Park, but blew it in the final 4:13 of regulation on two goals by John Madden, the latter scored with 0.9 seconds left. They survived overtime and moved on when third-string goalie Wade Dubielewicz poke-checked the puck away from Sergei Brylin to end the shootout.

Not a bad way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ``Easter Epic,'' a four-overtime victory against Washington in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series that ended on Pat LaFontaine's goal.

Now they will face the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres, the Presidents' Trophy winners who closed their season Sunday in less dramatic fashion, with a meaningless 4-3 loss to Philadelphia _ the team with the league's worst record (22-48-12).

In other games on the final day of the season, it was Dallas 3, Chicago 2; Phoenix 3, Vancouver 1; and Colorado 6, Calgary 3.

Detroit, which wrapped its season Saturday, tied Buffalo with an NHL-high 113 points, but the Sabres secured home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs by winning 53 games _ three more than the Red Wings.

The Islanders got good news before they even hit the ice Sunday when the Devils _ safely locked into the No. 2 position in the East _ decided to rest goalie Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur already was assured of finishing with the most wins in the league _ a record-setting 48 _ and was comfortable knowing that the best Vancouver's Roberto Luongo could do was tie him at the mark. Luongo also sat out Sunday when the Canucks lost their tune-up game at Phoenix.

The Devils will take on the seventh-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning, and No. 4 Ottawa will open at home against scoring champion Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The other series in the East features the Southeast Division champion Atlanta Thrashers, in the first playoff appearance of their seven seasons, taking on the New York Rangers.

For the third time, and first since the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup title, all three New York metropolitan teams reached the postseason in the same year. They will all play their openers on Thursday night.

Out West, Detroit will face No. 8 Calgary, which clinched its spot Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche lost to Nashville. That spoiled a potential win-or-go-home scenario Sunday in Denver when the Avalanche hosted the Flames.

The only distinction it ended up having was being the final game of the regular season. Only the Islanders-Devils tilt had any bearing on the playoffs Sunday.

And Brodeur and Luongo were content to watch. Both netminders, who will receive serious consideration for league MVP as well as the Vezina Trophy, chose the safe route and stayed on the bench.

The Islanders didn't complain.

``Anytime the best goalie in the world isn't in the net across from you, you've got a better chance,'' Dubielewicz said.

Brodeur broke Bernie Parent's single-season win record of 47 on Saturday, and surpassed his own mark by playing 4,697 minutes. He posted a league-best 12 shutouts, including three over the Islanders.

``We talked about the wins record, but he couldn't really surpass me,'' Brodeur said of Luongo. ``It's something that we thought about, since if you are going to go that far, what's one more game? When we cleared up that question, we finally made that decision.

``There are a lot of things that are positive for it, so we'll see the payoff.''

Toronto had a chance to be the last one standing but couldn't overcome a loss on Long Island on Thursday in the Islanders' first of three straight must-win games. The Maple Leafs didn't quibble with Brodeur's decision to sit out.

``There was no chance he was going to be in net and I think we all would have been shocked if he was,'' Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. ``We controlled our destiny, we look to ourselves here. We left it one point short and that's what came back to bite us.''

Luongo and the third-seeded Canucks will gear up for a series against the Dallas Stars; the No. 2 Anaheim Ducks will take on No. 7 Minnesota; and the fourth-seeded Nashville Predators are set to face the fifth-seeded San Jose Sharks.

Crosby became the youngest scoring champion in league history when the 19-year-old Penguins phenom took the Art Ross Trophy with 120 points _ doing it with 36 goals and 84 assists. San Jose's Joe Thornton, the league MVP a year ago when he won the scoring title with 125 points, finished six shy of Crosby.

Brodeur will test his mettle in the first round against Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier, the goals champion with a career-best 52. Thornton was tops in assists with 92.

Only Ottawa's Dany Heatley joined Lecavalier in the 50-goal club. The Senators forward hit the mark exactly for the second straight season, the first to do it consecutively since Pavel Bure in 1999-00 and 2000-01.

The defensive-minded Minnesota Wild rode goalie Niklas Backstrom to the playoffs. The first-year player from Finland had the best goals-against average of 1.97 and the highest save percentage of .929.

Stars 3, Blackhawks 2

At Dallas, Mike Modano scored his 507th career goal with 3:49 left to extend his record for U.S.-born players. Dallas went 12-2-2 in its last 16 games to finish with 107 points.

Flyers 4, Sabres 3

At Philadelphia, the Flyers ended their worst season in 40 years by denying Buffalo a chance to finish with the highest point total in its history. Mike Knuble and Mike Richards scored third-period goals for Philadelphia.

Coyotes 3, Canucks 1

Derek Morris scored the go-ahead goal three seconds into a power play at 12:12 of the first period to lift host Phoenix. Jeremy Roenick added what might be his final NHL goal, an empty-netter, with 21.2 seconds to play.

Avalanche 6, Flames 3

Joe Sakic scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, giving him 100 points for the first time since 2001. It was the first time in the Avalanche's 11 seasons in Denver that the team played a game with the playoffs out of their grasp.