UNIONDALE, NY- Next week marks the start of postseason play at Nassau Coliseum. But instead of the facility hosting the Islanders quest for a fifth Stanley Cup championship, the dilapidated building will serve as the temporary home for Bridgeport, the club’s AHL affiliate.
While the Sound Tigers are initiating its run for the Calder Cup championship, the Islanders will be planning for next season, starting with the NHL’s draft in which the Isles are assured of a top-two pick after clinching the league’s worst record.
After losing the last two games by a combined 15-1, the Isles produced a far more competitive effort against Atlantic Division-rival Philadelphia before the Flyers erased a one-goal deficit en route to a 3-2 Saturday afternoon victory. The Islanders will conclude the regular season Sunday against the Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins.
Closing the season with back-to-back home games looked to be a positive for coach Scott Gordon, whose club finished the road slate 9-29-3 yet can finish the campaign with a record greater than .500 at home if they can beat a Bruins squad that will likely rest its top players in a meaningless game.
“We played way better and smarter today. It was a better effort but at the end of the day, it’s a loss,” defenseman Mark Streit said. “We played some good hockey over awhile and then we lost it. We’re missing consistency in our game and if you want to make the playoffs, you need to play consistent. We’re not doing that yet.”
Simon Gagne epitomized the difference between the two clubs. The forward broke a deadlock and netted his 35th goal at the 16:19 mark of the second period for what proved to be the game winner. Joffrey Lupul netted his 25th goal on a power play chance 5:03 into the second, giving him three goals in the past two games against the Isles while also becoming the sixth Flyer to score 25 or more goals this season.
That figure underscored the Islanders season-long scores problems. Rookie Kyle Okposo is the leading scorer with 18 and unless he finishes with a multi-goal game against Boston, the Isles will not have a 20-goal scorer for the first time in history.
Okposo provided some sparse good news for the home team, returning to the lineup after a groin injury suffered April 1 in Washington sidelined him for four games. He logged three shots in playing 22:01.
“It came back pretty naturally. I was only out for a week,” Okposo said. “After that first shift, it was easy. Our line had some good chances. I took a couple of bad penalties that I shouldn’t have.”
Added Gordon: “He played well. I’m sure he would’ve liked to get a couple more opportunities but his skating was fine and we’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
Mike Knuble scored the Flyers second goal on the power play 10:51 into the second as Philadelphia finished 2-3 with the man advantage. Tim Jackman responded by re-tying the game at 2 just 4:36 later before Gagne bested goalie Yann Danis 52 seconds after Jackman’s goal to extend the Islanders losing streak to three.
Gagne took Mike Richard’s blue line-pass, waited a beat to allow Bruno Gervais to skate past him, and blasted a wrist shot that beat Danis (24 saves) off the stick side for a 3-2 edge.
give up a lot of chances five-on-five,” Gordon said. “The difference in the game is the special teams. Our special teams have struggled over the last 10 games with both power play and penalty kill.”
Sean Bergenheim continued his hot play, netting his eighth goal in his past nine games to open the scoring 14:06 into the game. Doug Weight fired a deft left circle pass that Bergenheim deflected with his backhand between Martin Biron’s pads to the delight of most of the announced sell-out crowd.
Biron’s only mistake came off a Philadelphia defensive-zone turnover, allowing Jackman to corral the puck and fire a short-side shot that nestled inside the left post. Biron finished with 30 saves.
The Islanders fell to 26-46-9 and entered the contest with 568 man-games lost to injury.
“Obviously it would be nice to play healthy once in awhile,” Streit said. “It never happened this year. With a very young team, you have to [gain] experience. Hopefully next year we’re going to be better and improve in certain areas.”
Notes: Before the game, Weight was awarded the the Islanders’ Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the media…There were no fights in the game, compared to the four the last time the teams met on the Coliseum ice March 28.