For the first time since 1988, the New York Islanders will host a Game 1 of a postseason series after locking up second-place in the Metropolitan Division on Saturday night with a 3-0 victory over the Washington Capitals in the regular-season finale.
The two points gave the Islanders 103 points on the season — their most in a year since 1983-84 — three points ahead of the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins, who they will face off against in the first round.
The Penguins lost in a shootout to the New York Rangers on Saturday night, which would have helped the Islanders plenty had they come up short in Washington.
Had the Penguins won on Saturday and the Islanders lost to the Capitals, it would have been Pittsburgh who had home-ice advantage rather than the Islanders.
The win in Washington put the finishing touches on an improbable season for the Islanders. A team that was expected to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference after the departure of John Tavares has developed into one of its most structured sides.
Goaltenders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined for 11 shutouts, a team record while winning the William Jennings Trophy for least goals allowed in the NHL this year. The Islanders also became the first team in 100 years that an NHL team went from worst to first in goals allowed over a two-year stretch.
“I said it early in the year, if you want to go somewhere quick, you go alone. If you want to go somewhere far, you go as a group,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “They decided to go as a group.”
With the series starting Wednesday, it’s a reunion of familiar division foes in the postseason. It also features the last two Stanley Cup-winning coaches in Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and the Islanders’ Trotz, who won it all with the Capitals last year.
This will be the fifth time ever the Islanders and Penguins will meet in the playoffs. New York took the first three meetings in 1975, 1982, and 1993 before the Penguins took the first-round series in six games back in 2013.
Each team won a pair of games against the other this season, the Islanders sweeping a home-and-home on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1. It was the first indication that the afterthought Islanders would be a force in the Metropolitan Division.
Keep an eye out for Wednesday’s issue of Metro New York where we will provide a full preview of the Islanders’ first-round series.