Brock Nelson scored twice as the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 Wednesday night and clinched a playoff berth.
The Islanders are awaiting the outcome of the Florida Panthers-Carolina Hurricanes game on Thursday to determine their first-round playoff opponent. New York missed the post-season last year, and that led to the firing of head coach Barry Trotz in May.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey, but now it gets fun,” Zach Parise said. “You zero in on a team. You focus on their strengths and weaknesses and it really turns into a chess match. Once we find out our opponent, it will be a lot of video and a lot of learning.”
The Islanders’ victory also eliminated Pittsburgh from the post-season race, ending the Penguins’ run of playoff appearances at 16 years, which was the longest active playoff streak in major North American professional sports.
Hudson Fasching and Anders Lee also scored for New York, and Ilya Sorokin made 16 saves as the Islanders closed out their regular season. Noah Dobson added two assists.
Rem Pitlick and Nick Suzuki scored for Montreal, and Sam Montembeault finished with 31 saves in the Canadiens’ next-to-last game of the regular season.
Lee scored a power-play goal at 16:01 of the third period to give the Islanders 4-2 lead. The Islanders captain redirected a shot from Sebastian Aho for his 28th goal of the season.
“Our power play is going to have to score some goals in the playoffs,” Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. “It was a big goal for us, at a big moment, it’s nice to get that monkey off our back.”
Suzuki cut the Canadiens deficit in half with a crafty short-handed goal at 14:38 of the second period. Montreal’s captain beat Islanders defenceman Samuel Bolduc in a foot race and, with one hand, lifted the puck over the glove of Sorokin. Bolduc did not play another shift after the goal.
“He could have maintained body position on Suzuki and didn’t,” Lambert said. “There’s a young player, learning and growing. He will learn from those situations.”
Nelson extended the Islanders’ lead to 3-1 with his second goal of the game midway through the second period. New York generated several scoring opportunities on an extended shift in the offensive zone, and Nelson eventually redirected Dobson’s shot at 10:20. Scott Mayfield also assisted on the play.
“This one feels good,” Nelson said. “We had a chance at home, wanted to take advantage of it and I thought we did everything we needed to. Crowd was good, I thought we had good energy, a good start. We definitely want more now.”
The Islanders outshot the Canadiens 19-6 in the middle period.
Nelson scored his team-leading 35th goal to open the scoring at 10:27 of the first period. The 31-year-old entered the offensive zone with possession of the puck and fired a wrist shot from the high slot past the glove of Montembault. Kyle Palmieri and Adam Pelech picked up assists.
Before the first goal of the game, Sorokin made a neat save with his right pad on Canadiens forward Denis Gurianov to keep the game scoreless.
“A great atmosphere tonight, a playoff atmosphere. You could tell what that game meant for them,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said of the crowd at UBS Arena. “I felt it gave us energy to give them a game. I thought we did. Obviously it’s not this year for us, but every game is something you can grab from.”
Fasching helped the Islanders regain a one-goal edge with a timely goal at 18:57 of the first. Jean-Gabriel Pageau set up Parise for a deflection that rang off the crossbar and Fasching crashed the net and buried the rebound to give New York a 2-1 lead.
Pitlick blasted a one-timer to tie the game at 1 at 17:38 of the first period. Jake Evans stole the puck from Dobson and found Pitlick alone in the circle.
Canadiens forward Joel Teasdale made his NHL debut. Josh Bailey returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous three games ... Mathew Barzal and Alexander Romanov continue to skate on their own, but haven’t participated in a team practice as of yet. Barzal sustained a lower-body injury on Feb.18 against the Boston Bruins, and Romanov has been sidelined with an upper-body injury he suffered on April 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Islanders: Will play Boston Bruins or Carolina Hurricanes in opening round of the playoffs.
Canadiens: Close out their season by hosting Boston on Thursday.