PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup Playoff fate will be decided on the final day of the regular season.
The Penguins (42-27-12), who have yet to win a game in April (0-4-1), were unable to clinch a playoff berth for the second consecutive game. They can clinch a spot with a win against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, a Boston Bruins loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, or an overtime/shootout loss to the Sabres coupled with a Bruins shootout win against the Lightning.
"Getting frustrated isn't going to help it," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think you just keep working hard. Keep battling. We were all around the net. We generated some good chances. A lot of pucks around the net. We competed hard in the corners. All the things you need to do to generate goals and, like I said, you just have to trust it's going to go in.
"But getting frustrated or trying to change the plan, that kind of thing, it's not going to help anything. We believe in the way we play."
New York (47-28-6) clinched at least third place in the Metropolitan Division and will play the Washington Capitals in the first round. The Islanders can finish second in the division with a regulation or overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and a Capitals loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, or a win if the Capitals do not get a point.
Pittsburgh outshot the Islanders 17-5 in the first period, but a goal from forward Casey Cizikas, scored seconds after Patric Hornqvist appeared to give the Penguins an early lead, allowed the Islanders to leave the period up 1-0.
With defenseman Thomas Hickey in the penalty box for slashing Hornqvist, Crosby sent a shot into the Islanders crease, where Hornqvist batted the puck off of Jaroslav Halak’s pad before Chris Kunitz escorted it behind the net. Hornqvist took the puck from Kunitz and caught Halak sliding left, leading to a backhand attempt inside the right post.
Halak, who made 37 saves, recovered, but the puck pounced over his left pad and into the net at 7:52 of the first period. The goal was disallowed when it was ruled inconclusive because it could not be determined if the puck fully crossed the goal line, which was obstructed by Halak’s glove.
"It was good for us it didn't go in," Halak said. "It could've been a different game. Scoring right away, getting the first goal and momentum would be on their side. … We knew they were going to come hard. They're a desperate team. Obviously, they want to make the playoffs. I think they came out hard and in the first 10 minutes; it was hard for us to get in the game."
Cizikas scored eight seconds later. Defenseman Nick Leddy sent a stretch pass to Cizikas streaking through the neutral zone, allowing him to charge alone toward Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before placing a wrist shot into the upper-right corner of the net for a shorthanded goal.
With the Penguins on the verge of entering the third period down one goal, defenseman Rob Scuderi scored his first of the season to tie the game 1-1 with 5.7 seconds remaining in the second.
Crosby sent a shot off of Halak’s pad that bounced toward the left faceoff circle. Scuderi raced toward the puck and flicked a wrist shot toward Halak, who attempted to catch the puck with his blocker hand after losing his stick. Halak dropped the shot and the puck went past the goal line for Scuderi’s 100th NHL point.
"The last two games in particular, those are big games," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "Big moments. How do our players rise up to the occasion? We didn't get the results, but I look at the games and we've played, you could say four of six really good periods. We just didn't score tonight on our opportunities.
"We had some great opportunities. We just didn’t score."
The Islanders took a 2-1 lead on Tavares’ 37th goal of the season at 2:46 of the third period. Defenseman Brian Strait sent a slap shot off of Fleury's left pad that bounced to Tavares alone at the goalmouth.
Tavares is tied with Crosby, who had an assist on Scuderi's goal, for first in the NHL scoring race with 84 points.
Michael Grabner gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead with a shorthanded goal with 3:40 remaining.
"We just regrouped [from a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday]," Grabner said. "We knew there was a lot on the line here. We came out and played a pretty solid game. We knew they were going to have a lot of desperation in their game. We kind of weathered the storm early and, obviously, Halak played a great game for us, in the first especially."
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic left the game because of an undisclosed injury with 3:46 left in the first period. Capuano said Hamonic will be re-evaluated Saturday.
After spoiling Pittsburgh’s home finale on Friday, New York will play its last regular-season home game at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.
"It's real special," Capuano said. "You think of the tradition and the history in that building. For the people, we have a lot of people who have been there through the '70s and '80s that are still going to the games. So, it's going to be a fun game to play.
"It’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere."
The Penguins' final regular season game won't be as sentimental, but Hornqvist is looking forward to the challenge of making the playoffs.
"That’s why we play 82 games," Hornqvist said. "To see who are the best teams after that. … I think everybody's excited [for Saturday]. It's live or die and I can't wait."