For the first time since 1988, the New York Islanders will have home-ice advantage entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Securing home ice was the goal heading into Saturday's regular season finale against Washington. One point would have done the trick, but the Isles took care of business and took both, scoring a 3-0 win over the Capitals. They will host the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one.
"It means a lot. It's a full season of work that has paid off," captain Anders Lee said. "We'll be ready to go. I know the crowd at home will be ready to go... We should be proud of what we've done as a team. We are all really excited for the next step here."
The who and where for game one were the big-picture concerns for the Isles, who capped their best regular season in the post-Cup era with a win against their division rivals. In total, the Isles finished the season 48-27-7 with 103 points, their most points since 1984.
"It's amazing what you can do when you want to go somewhere together," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "One of the statements I said at the start of the year was if you want to go somewhere quick, go by yourself. If you want to go somewhere far, you have to go as a group. They decided to go as a group so far."
LEHNER, GREISS AND ISLES WIN JENNINGS TROPHY:
A year ago, the Islanders allowed 296 goals against, the most in the NHL. This season they allowed a league-low 196, winning the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against in the process.
It was the first time in 100 years a team had accomplished the feat of going worst to first in the goals against category and it was a little poetic that they did so on the back of a 29-save shutout for Robin Lehner, his sixth of the season and the Isles' club record 11th of the year.
Lehner and Thomas Greiss will get their names engraved on the trophy, the first Islanders since Billy Smith and Roland Melanson won the award in 1982-83.
"It's pretty special, but it's not just me and Thomas, I see this as a team award," Lehner said. "Just the way we fought all year. Everyone buying into our game plan and our defense, blocking shots. It's been a collective effort from the whole team and it's pretty special."
Greiss was 23-14-2 with a 2.28 GAA, a .927 SV% and a career-high five shutouts, while Lehner went 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% and six shutouts. Lehner set career-highs in both wins (25) and shutouts (6) and both goalies finished top-five in GAA and SV% this season. An appreciative Lehner, who opened the season by disclosing his struggles with mental health and addicition, summed up the feeling of his bounce-back year.
"As everyone knows it was a big change for me," Lehner said. "It's been a long season, but [we have] a hell of a group here and it's helped. We're having fun and I said before, I think I've played good before too, but having this little bit of a different situation obviously I made a lot of changes and got good help. A lot of credit to our goalie coaches too, they've helped me and Greiss a lot too. It's been fun. It's going to be really fun going into the playoffs. It's been a roller coaster year."
Video: NYI@WSH: Toews sets up Filppula's breakaway goal
Valtteri Filppula looked like he hadn't missed a beat in his return after missing eight games with a hyperextended elbow.
The veteran Finn scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, reassuming his spot on the Isles third line with Anthony Beauvillier and Leo Komarov, the latter of whom moved back to his natural position on the wing. Filppula's return was ahead of schedule, as he was originally predicted to miss four weeks.
Filppula opened the scoring with his 16th goal of the season, a nifty breakaway deke after catching a home-run pass from Devon Toews deep in the Isles zone at 2:55 of the second period. Filppula deflected his second of the night past Caps backup Phoenix Copley at 10:54 of the third. Matt Martin iced the game with an empty-netter at 17:27 of the third.
After 82 regular season games, eight preseason games and three weeks of training camp, it's time for the playoffs. The postseason schedule will be released on Sunday morning at 10 a.m.