The New York Islanders will face the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Sunday night’s result – a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers – decided the Islanders’ first-round opponent, as they finished the regular season in the first wild-card with 45-27-10 with 100 points. The Panthers enter as Atlantic Division champions.
In an effort to get healthy for the postseason, Jack Capuano gave a lot of his regulars the night to rest Sunday, sitting John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Casey Cizikas. Kyle Okposo was also out of the lineup, as he and his wife are expecting the birth of their second child.
“We have some guys who are dinged up and we have to do what’s best for our team,” Capuano said of the Islanders’ lineup. “We were a little gun shy with all of the injuries that we have. We didn’t use the same penalty kill guys that normally kill penalties for us and those are the decisions I made as a coach and that we made as a staff.”
While some Islanders were resting on Sunday, others were using the game as a tune up before the playoffs. Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Nikolay Kulemin all returned to the Islanders lineup, while Thomas Greiss played the first period to avoid a week-long layoff.
“It was just good to be back on the ice,” Martin said. “Kind of get your timing and shifts down and have that game-like situation.”
Martin and Kulemin each scored on Sunday, Kulemin opening the scoring at 5:58, dangling Brandon Manning before potting a backhander past Michal Neuvirth. Martin made it 2-0 with his 10th goal of the season – a career-high – tapping in a slap pass from Ryan Pulock.
The Flyers tied the game before the end of the first period on a pair of power-play goals, as Shayne Gostisbehere and Evgeny Medvedev placed wristers through traffic and ultimately past Greiss. Greiss stopped seven shots, before Christopher Gibson took over for the second and third period.
Michal Raffl’s one-timer made it 3-2 at 6:38 of the second period, Scott Laughton made it 4-2 at 5:50 of the third and R.J. Umberger’s power-play goal made it 5-2. Neuvirth stopped 15 shots for the win.
With a handful of Islanders out, Sunday was an opportunity for Bridgeport callups to get some NHL minutes. Ross Johnston – who was emergency recalled on Sunday morning – made his NHL debut, while Alan Quine and Bracken Kearns skated for a second straight game. All three were returned on loan to Bridgeport following the game.
The Islanders begin their playoff series with the Panthers this week.