Official Scoresheet | Official Super Stats
By Jason Lockhart
Call it improbable (or even impossible by some) but somehow the 2007 Islanders found a way to reach the playoffs in the most heart-wrenching way possible by defeating the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout Sunday afternoon at the Continental Airlines Arena.
Thousands of Islanders fans packed the visiting Continental Airlines Arena to cheer on their squad that played 81 games of entertaining hockey for the right to reach the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Chants of "Dubie," "Let's Go Islanders," and "We want the playoffs," could be heard all game long with the Islanders fans trying to will their team into the postseason.
Before the Islanders even had control of their own postseason fate, the Islanders needed to string together three consecutive wins over the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Flyers as well as get help from those same Rangers and Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens. All five games ended the Islanders' way setting up Sunday's storybook finale against the Devils, who were merely playing a playoff tune-up having already clinched the Atlantic Division title and the second spot in the East.
What could have been a walk in the park for the Islanders against a Devils team with nothing to lose or gain, turned into an instant classic, one worthy of Islanders folklore.
For much of the game, the Islanders pressed the Devils, who, despite their situation, continued to play stifling defense, limiting the Islanders' chances. For their effort, the Islanders were able to get two past backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen following Richard Park's second goal of the game at 7:51 of the third period.
The Islanders did not sit back, but John Madden cut the Islanders lead by re-directing Jay Pandolfo's shot past Islanders unexpected, late-season hero Wade Dubielewicz with less than five minutes to go in the third period, setting up a nerve-racking finish for Islanders fans.
With their goalie pulled, the Devils pressed unlike they had been doing all game, but were unable to generate many shots on Dubielewicz, who faced 22 shots through three periods.
With less than 20 seconds remaining on the clock, Brendan Witt tried a bank shot off the glass to Ryan Smyth to spring him for a breakaway, with nothing but a gaping net stopping the Islanders from reaching the playoffs, but the puck never got out and found its way to the left wing boards where Jamie Langenbrunner stood.
With seconds remaining, Langenbrunner fired the puck on goal, which was stopped by Dubielewicz, who was sprawled on the ground. As the clock struck just over a second, Madden chipped the puck over Dubielewicz with, what appeared to be, no time left.
After a quick review, the replay showed there was .9 seconds remaining on the clock, putting a stop to an Islanders Country celebration.
"I was on the ground because I had been slew-footed," said Dubielewicz. "I felt the puck hit my elbow, and then saw it go over me. I couldn't believe it had gone in. It was definitely an emotional blow."
Fortunately, for the Islanders, it didn't put an end to their playoff hopes, it only added another chapter to their whirlwind of a season.
"Nothing has come easy for us all year," said Ted Nolan. "We bent, but we didn't break. All season long we persevered, and it was only appropriate it went into overtime."
In the overtime, you could feel the hearts of the thousands of Islanders fans in the crowd nearly stop with every shot the Devils took, knowing each could be their last. But as Dubielewicz had the past four games, he came up with saves bigger than the previous ones. Shots in the overtime were a conservative 3-2 advantage for the Islanders.
The storybook ending fittingly went into a shootout with huge question marks on everyone's mind. Who would shoot for the Devils and how good was Clemmensen in shootouts?
It was clear who would go for the Islanders, the usual suspects of Miroslav Satan and Viktor Kozlov, as well as the Islanders' trade deadline acquisition, Ryan Smyth.
Satan shot first and instead of his usual deke, wristed a shot past Clemmensen for a 1-0 Islanders lead. Next for the Devils went sophomore forward Zach Parise, who used a nice juke to the backhand to even the score at one.
Kozlov went second for the Islanders and snuck a wrist shot past Clemmensen for a 2-1 Islanders lead. Dubielewicz then came up with a huge stop on Gionta's attempt, setting up a potential clinching shot from Smyth.
Smyth failed to score on his shot, but the Islanders were still in the driver's seat. With both benches standing, Sergei Brylin came down on Dubielewicz, deked one way and then another before being poke-checked by Dubielewicz, sending the Islanders' bench into a frenzy.
"I learned the poke-check from my older brother," said Dubielewicz. "I then picked it up again in my first pro camp from Billy Smith. When it works, it looks good, but when it doesn't, I can look pretty silly."
As the players jumped over the bench, the three coaches embraced celebrating what was truly a storybook ending to one of the most improbable playoff berths in NHL history.
"It was like a Hollywood ending," said Nolan. "You couldn't have written a much better script than this. This group truly deserves this."
Five Stars of the Game:
1. Wade Dubielewicz: Under intense pressure won it for the Islanders in the SO
2. Richard Park: The only Islanders goal scorer in regulation
3. John Madden: Prolonged the agony with a late goal
4. Viktor Kozlov: The game-winner in the SO
5. Miroslav Satan: Started things off in the shootout
Stat of the Game: The Islanders earned the right to play in their first postseason game since April 16th, 2004.
Slapshots: This is only the third time all three New York metro teams have reached the postseason (1990, 94, 2007)...The Islanders will take on the Buffalo Sabres in the opening round of the 2007 Playoffs...The Islanders have met Buffalo in the playoffs three times and won all three series. Their last meeting was in the semifinals in 1980...The first playoff game is scheduled for Thursday in Buffalo...Wade Dubielewicz is 3-0 in NHL shootouts.
34 Wade Dubielewicz
1 Mike Dunham
32 Brendan Witt - 6 Sean Hill
14 Chris Campoli - 21 Deron Quint
3 Tom Poti - 47 Marc-Andre Bergeron
94 Ryan Smyth - 18 Mike Sillinger - 7 Trent Hunter
79 Alexei Yashin - 25 Viktor Kozlov - 81 Miroslav Satan
45 Arron Asham - 27 Randy Robitaille - 55 Jason Blake
11 Andy Hilbert - 15 Jeff Tambellini - 10 Richard Park
40 Scott Clemmensen
30 Martin Brodeur
5 Colin White - 28 Brian Rafalski
29 Johnny Oduya - 7 Paul Martin
24 Richard Matvichuk - 21 Brad Lukowich
26 Patrik Elias - 23 Scott Gomez - 14 Brian Gionta
9 Zach Parise - 19 Travis Zajac - 15 Jamie Langenbrunner
20 Jay Pandolfo - 11 John Madden - 18 Sergei Brylin
17 Michael Rupp - 10 Erik Rasmussen 12 Jim Dowd