The Islanders lost on Sunday, but can it be considered a win?
Their 5-2 loss to the Flyers at Barclays Center assured the Isles of what most would view as the preferable first-round matchup against the Panthers, likely to start Thursday in Sunrise, Fla. Despite winning the Atlantic Division, the Panthers are as untested as the Islanders in the postseason, a very different team than the red-hot Penguins, whom the Isles would have faced next week had they won their final regular-season game.
Jack Capuano and the makeshift crew that played Sunday swore there was no ulterior motive in sitting out the team’s three top scorers and top two defensemen.
“None,” Capuano said. “We have to do what’s best for us. That wouldn’t have changed.”
So resting John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas took precedence over trying hard for the last two points of the season and a chance to leapfrog the Rangers into third place in the Metro Division and a playoff matchup with Pittsburgh.
Nikolay Kulemin and Matt Martin scored in the first 9:19 on Sunday but the Flyers scored the next five as the Isles mustered only 17 shots on Michal Neuvirth and used some very unfamiliar players on special teams.
Playoff Game 1 starter Thomas Greiss played only the first period, relieved by Christopher Gibson in a bid to simply get Greiss some game work before the postseason begins.
“It’s almost like a preseason game,” Capuano said. “We’re a little gun-shy with all the injuries we’ve had, so we didn’t use our regular penalty killers.”
The Flyers rested their top players as well but had two first-period power play goals and controlled the remaining 40 minutes, making it seem as though the Isles had the thought of losing Sunday to ensure not only a Panthers first-round matchup but a weaker second-round opponent as well -- the winner of this series will face the winner of the Lightning-Red Wings series, while the Pens-Rangers winner gets the Caps-Flyers winner.
“It’s disrespectful to Florida and to those other teams to think that way,” Thomas Hickey said. “You still have to win a round just to get to those other teams. There’s no sense trying to think ahead.”
The Islanders will take the next few days to get their health in order, with the hope that Travis Hamonic (knee) will be ready for Game 1 and the rested regulars will be in good shape.
Then it’s time to focus on Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and the Panthers cast of youngsters. The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993 and the Panthers haven’t won one since 1996, so some ugly history will be erased.
“They’ve got a good mix of young and old players, there’s really no weakness in their lineup,” Martin said.
And Martin assured there was no effort to plan a loss Sunday and face that Panthers team.
“We’ve got some important pieces we couldn’t risk getting hurt,” he said. “We’re a playoff team. Every team in the league does it, the Flyers did it too tonight.”
Notes & Quotes: After the game the Islanders sent Alan Quine, Bracken Kearns and Ross Johnston back to Bridgeport. Quine had his first NHL goal on Saturday.