The New York Islanders clinched a playoff berth on Tuesday night.
Thomas Hickey scored the overtime winner, as the Islanders staged a third period rally and upended the Washington Capitals 4-3 at Verizon Center. With the goal, the Islanders are headed to the playoffs for a second straight season and third time in the last four years. The postseason officially begins on April 13.
“It’s huge. We knew we were going to get there, but as the games counted down, you want to make sure,” Hickey said of clinching.
The Islanders overcame a lot of adversity on Tuesday night. They were coming in on the second half of a back-to-back set against the top team in the NHL and were playing with a depleted forward and defensive corps, not to mention a goalie making his first NHL start.
“Just gritty to get it done on the back end of a back to back,” Hickey, who took a skate to the face in OT before scoring the winner, said. “That feels good, not worrying about what other teams are doing, just do it the hard way. That was big.”
Things looked bleak in the third period after T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin put the Capitals up 3-1. Playing with five defensemen – Brian Strait left the game with an upper-body injury – and without Calvin de Haan or Cal Clutterbuck, the Islanders staged a third period rally.
Kyle Okposo and Anders Lee scored goals 2:45 apart – Okposo crashing the net for a rebound off the end boards and Lee deflecting a Nick Leddy point shot – and suddenly, the game was tied.
“We didn’t want to get discouraged when they scored,” Okposo said. “We were playing a pretty good hockey game and we didn’t quit, we knew we were still in the game. We wanted to keep fighting and we did.”
Christopher Gibson (29 saves) was an unlikely hero on Tuesday night, as the rookie goaltender was thrust into a huge moment for his first NHL start on Tuesday night, with the Islanders looking to clinch and playing one of their archrivals.
It didn’t start as planned, with Ovechkin scoring up high on the Capitals first shot of the game, but the rookie settled in, got better as the game wore on.
“It was a great win for our goaltender with the way he played tonight,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “He played with a lot of confidence. Ovechkin’s first, it was a great shot, Oshie was screening him. Nothing you can do about it. But he regrouped, stayed poised, stayed confident, believed in himself and that’s what you need back there. I couldn’t be more pleased for him.”
Gibson wound up making the save of his life in overtime, stopping Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals' leading scorer, on a breakaway to keep the game alive.
"In my mind I was like I have to stop this to keep this going," Gibson said. "Luckily enough I made the save there and we won the game."
John Tavares (1G, 2A) recorded his second three-point game in as many nights. He tied the game 1-1 midway through the second period with his 31st of the season, one-timing a pass from Hickey high past Braden Holtby (23 saves).
The win was also significant as it was the Islanders first win over the Capitals in four meetings this season.
“Tonight was a huge measuring stick here for us,” Okposo said.
The Islanders currently sit in the first wild-card position two points behind the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders and Rangers meet at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Postgame from Capuano
Postgame from Hickey, Okposo & Nielsen
Highlight & Analysis