Islanders beat Capitals to earn home-ice in first round
WASHINGTON (AP) — Barry Trotz will again need to go through the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.
A 3-0 victory by his New York Islanders against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Saturday means they’ll get to start that effort at home. The Islanders clinched home-ice advantage in the first round open against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
“They’ve got championship pedigree, they’ve got lots of experience,” Trotz said. “We’re just going to bring our best game and go from there.”
The Islanders drawing the Penguins in the matchup of second and third seeds in the Metropolitan Division also means Trotz’s former team will face the wild-card Carolina Hurricanes after finishing first. The winners of those series will meet in the second round, while the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Boston Bruins will face the Toronto Maple Leafs on the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket.
New York couldn’t catch Washington, but two goals by Valtteri Filppula in his return from injury and a 29-save shutout by Robin Lehner shored up home-ice. The Islanders will open the playoffs at home for the first time since 1988, and they should get a raucous atmosphere at the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
“We’ve seen how special the Coliseum’s been and all the fans and it’s going to be a really fun series,” Lehner said. “They’re a good team. It’s going to be a good challenge. If we stick to our game, I like our chances.”
In his first game back after missing the past eight with a hyperextended left elbow, Filppula scored on a breakaway early in the second period. The Finnish center added his 17th goal of the season in the third on a redirection.
Just having Filppula back makes the Islanders deeper down the middle, especially after they were picked to miss the playoffs when point-a-game center John Tavares left for Toronto in free agency last summer.
“I just was really happy to have a chance to play one before (playoffs),” Filppula said. “Obviously wanted to win but personally just to get moving a little bit more and have a few game-like situations, I think it’s going to be a big help. Obviously goals are a bonus. Really happy I got healthy enough to play.”
Washington had nothing left to play for in game 82, so center Nicklas Backstrom, right wing T.J. Oshie and defenseman John Carlson rested and backup goaltender Pheonix Copley started. Copley made 18 saves, but the Capitals were shut out in their season finale for the fourth time in six seasons.
The Capitals now shift their attention to trying to repeat and open against the Hurricanes, who are in the playoffs for the first time in a decade. These teams have never met in a playoff series.
“Every team’s going to play you hard,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “They’ve had a very good season, they’ve got a lot of good players, goaltending’s been playing well. It’s going to be a battle, every series is, and they definitely earned the right to get in. They played very well this season. It’s going to be a tough challenge, for sure.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin finished with 51 goals, which was two more than Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for the league lead with the Oilers in action in Calgary later Saturday.
A year after being worst in the NHL in goals allowed under previous coach Doug Weight, Lehner and Thomas Greiss won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed.
“Him and Greisser had a phenomenal season,” captain Anders Lee said. “They should be extremely proud of themselves. It was a great team effort, as well, and it was a great turnaround.”
NOTES: Matt Martin scored an empty-net goal with 2:33 left to seal it. … Islanders D Johnny Boychuk was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Thursday. … F Dmitrij Jaskin played his first game since Jan. 17. … A pregame tribute was held on the one-year anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team’s bus crash that killed 16 people and injured 13.
The Islanders and Capitals are each four playoff wins away from a second-round showdown between Trotz and former associate coach Todd Reirden.