Simply, it was a playoff game in what was for a time the nexus of the NHL universe.
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The Islanders drew closer to clinching the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2007 following a 4-1 win over the Flyers. The Islanders improved to 20-16-4 overall and their 44 points put them seventh in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve given ourselves an opportunity and I think we just want to take advantage of the opportunity,” John Tavares said.
The Islanders and Ottawa are tied with 44 points each. Despite having lost five in a row, including dropping a 3-2 to decision to Tampa Bay Tuesday night, the Senators are still in sixth due to having two fewer regulation losses. The Islanders have one more win than the Senators.
The Rangers, who were off Tuesday, are in eighth with 42 points. The ninth-seeded Devils are two points behind the Rangers.
The Islanders are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
“We’re playing much better and we’re giving ourselves the best possible chance we can. Just keep going the way we are and I like our chances,” Tavares said. “We’re playing well and we have to keep building off the things we’re doing.”
“We talked about it -- just singular focus. No distractions from any of you guys [the media] talking about it,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “They’re playing hard as a group and believe in one another.”
Michael Grabner’s goal with 2:18 left in the second period was the game-winner. Grabner’s innocent-looking wrister beat Steve Mason (28 saves) high and seemed to surprise the right wing.
“I was surprised the puck came back. I was yelling for it. [Colin McDonald], I think he was trying to get it on net,” Grabner said.
His game-winner broke a 1-1 deadlock which spanned 22 minutes between the first and second periods.
“At the last second, he realized I was there and made a good play,” Grabner said.
The game-winner broke a 1-1 deadlock which spanned 22 minutes between the first and second periods.
Jakub Voracek opened the scoring with his 17th of the season just 6:28 into the game. The right wing was sprung for a semi-breakaway by a gorgeous headman pass from Claude Giroux. Voracek snapped a low shot that Evgeni Nabokov swallowed, but the netminder’s momentum and an onrushing Andrew MacDonald carried him into the net.
Voracek’s goal was Nabokov’s lone mistake, as he made 26 saves.
“I don’t talk about the goalies too much,” Capuano said. “He made some good saves when we needed them. He played pretty well tonight.”
Matt Moulson equalized 9:08 later. The Islanders’ top line of Tavares, Brad Boyes and Moulson moved the puck into the Flyers’ end before left wing ripped a snap shot past Mason.
Tavares potted his 24th of the season with 1:37 left in regulation which guaranteed the Islanders would leave the Coliseum with a 9-11-2 home record and caused the announced 13,888 to start a “We want playoffs” chant that lasted for the remainder of the game.
“We have a great opportunity,” Tavares said. “We want to give it to them. That’s what we’re striving for.”
Casey Cizikas added an empty-netter with nine seconds left.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.