The Islanders and Wild were the two teams that had a Stanley Cup Playoffs stake during the four-game slate of games Friday night. Neither got the result it wanted.
The Islanders had to settle for one point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres in their season finale -- but that was still better than the fate that befell the Wild, who saw their chance to clinch a playoff berth in front of their own fans disappear in a blizzard of goals by the Edmonton Oilers, who left Xcel Energy Center with a 6-1 victory.
There are 13 games on Saturday's schedule, several of which have a bearing on the last two available playoff berths in the Western Conference or the seedings for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in both conferences. Here's a look at the playoff picture after Friday's games.
The single point was better than nothing for the Islanders as they try to avoid finishing in eighth place and facing the conference-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round. The Islanders finished their season with 55 points, temporarily leaving them in sixth place. But they can only watch and hope Saturday as the New York Rangers host the New Jersey Devils (3 p.m. ET, NBC) and the Ottawa Senators host the Philadelphia Flyers. Both the Rangers and Senators have 54 points; each needs one point to finish ahead of the Islanders. The Senators actually have two chances -- they finish their season Sunday with a makeup game against the Boston Bruins.
The Islanders, who had been 8-0-3 in April before this week, finished 0-1-2 and left goaltender Evgeni Nabokov -- one of the few Islanders with significant playoff experience -- warning his teammates that the effort they put out this week won't cut it in the postseason.
"To me, it's obvious: The work ethic, the battle, playing on the edge. That's the difference," Nabokov said when asked why the Islanders' play has slipped this week. "Teams are so evenly built right now so whoever has more edge, who goes to the net more, wins hockey games usually. We've been doing a great job of it lately, but not the last two games. We have to get back to practice and get ready for the first game."
Should the Islanders have to play the Penguins, they'll be facing a team that won the last four meetings this season after New York took the first game in Pittsburgh. However, the Islanders do have history on their side -- they've won all three postseason series against the Penguins and ended their hopes of a third consecutive Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh with a second-round upset in 1993.
Everything appeared to be lined up for the Wild to lock up the frfanchise's first playoff berth since 2008. They were at home, playing a team already out of the playoffs -- and one that they've dominated at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom was 17-0 against the Oilers at home, and the Wild was 19-1-0 in Edmonton's past 20 visits.
Instead, the 19,090 fans had to watch as the Oilers scored 27 seconds after the opening faceoff, led 3-0 after one period and 6-0 after two.
"It's easy to get derailed by a game like that," Minnesota forward Kyle Brodziak said. "It's tough to explain … I don't think anyone really knows what happened.
"You just forget about this. Tomorrow is a new day and we're fighting for our lives now. We gotta lay it all on the line and play as desperate as we possibly can tomorrow."
The loss left the Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets even at 53 points, one behind the seventh-place Detroit Red Wings, with the three teams set for their regular-season finales Saturday -- all on the road.
The Blue Jackets, who stayed in the chase by capping a 5-1-0 road trip with a 3-1 victory against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, are home to face the Nashville Predators. The Wild will have to try to clinch in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, while the Red Wings end their season in Dallas.
The Red Wings and Wild control their own fate -- if they win in any manner, they're headed to the playoffs. The Blue Jackets have to get one more point than the Wild to finish ahead of Minnesota -- they have fewer non-shootout wins than either of the other two contenders.
A Columbus win and regulation losses by Detroit and Minnesota would put the Blue Jackets into seventh place. If the Wild and Red Wings finish tied for either seventh or eighth, the Wild own the tiebreaker. If all three teams finish with the same number of points, the Blue Jackets will head home because they have fewer non-shootout wins than either the Red Wings or Wild.
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