The New York Islanders punched their playoff ticket on Saturday night.
After a two-year absence, the Isles will return to the playoffs in 2019, officially securing their spot with a commanding 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's really gratifying," captain Anders Lee said. "It's the first step of the accomplishments we want to achieve this year. First step is to get in, the next step is home ice and then all that other stuff."
The win marked the first time the Isles had clinched a playoff berth on home ice since 2002 and the first time they'd clinched in March since 1990. With the win, the Isles (99 points) currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, three points back of the Washington Capitals (102), a position many prognosticators didn't predict the Isles to be in come March.
"It's fulfilling," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "The strength of this team has been its backbone, not its wishbone, wishing wins, this team had to go and work for wins. They have. It's good to know that we'll at least get an invite to the party."
Video: Islanders clinch playoff spot in win against Sabres
ISLES CLINCH POSTSEASON WITH COMMANDING WIN:
The Islanders had an opportunity to clinch with either a win over Buffalo, or a Montreal Canadiens regulation loss on Saturday. Rather than leave it in someone else's hands, Matt Martin was adamant that the Isles do it the right way, taking care of their own business.
"We had an opportunity to guarantee that we make it, so we knew the importance of tonight and how big of a game it was," Lee said. "We wanted to back up a little bit of our comeback the other night."
The Isles did just that. Playing in front of a sold out, well-oiled crowd at the Coliseum, the Isles dominated the Sabres from the drop of the puck. They led 1-0 after Jordan Eberle's fourth goal in four games, a rebound off a nifty Mat Barzal shake-n-bake, but the score easily could have been more, as Barzal had a backdoor look of his own, while Anthony Beauvillier was denied on a penalty shot.
Beauvillier got his revenge in the second period, beating Carter Hutton (33 saves) with a wrister from the slot at 8:20, while Michael Dal Colle scored the backbreaker at 19:26.
Video: BUF@NYI: Beauvillier doubles lead with nifty wrister
"Our first two periods we were on top of them," Trotz said. "Getting that third one sort of pushed them out of it a little bit. Ryan Pulock scoring the first shift in the third period was game, set and match."
Pulock, who Trotz called the best player on the ice for either team, opened the third by sidestepping Jack Eichel, skating in and snapping a shot five-hole on Hutton 30 seconds in and the rest was a formality. Beauvillier finished a tic-tac-toe play from Josh Bailey and Leo Komarov at 6:07 for his second of the night, while Victor Olofsson ended Robin Lehner's (31 saves) shutout bid with 6:32 to play.
When it was all said and done, "We want playoffs" rang throughout the Coliseum. Playoffs is what they'll get.
"To do that on home ice, these fans deserve that to come back to the Coli this year," Barzal said. "It's huge. You could see the excitement in the city. Especially, tonight in the building. Probably not many people thought we were going to be here, but three games left and we just secured a spot. It's pretty exciting."
Video: BUF@NYI: Eberle nets rebound to open scoring
EBERLE HEATING UP:
Jordan Eberle is heating up at the right time for the New York Islanders, scoring his fourth goal in as many games.
Barzal picked up the primary assist on Eberle's goal, the second straight tally the two had connected on after teaming up for the game-winner in Winnipeg. It appears Eberle and Barzal have rekindled their chemistry from last season, though Trotz had another theory to Eberle's sudden production.
"Jordan is in the interior now," Trotz said. "There were long stretches of the year where he didn't have any production and we'd say get into the interior and he wasn't, but now he's getting there and you see the production he's having. That whole line was good."
LEHNER SETS NEW HIGH IN WINS:
Robin Lehner set a new career-high with his 24th win of the season on Saturday. Lehner made 31 saves in the victory, which doubled as his fourth straight win. Lehner is now 24-12-5 in his first season with the Islanders.
"Obviously, Lenny and Greisser have been just rocks for us all year," Barzal said. "You can always count on them. It's huge. If we give up a good chance we know they're our backbone. They're going to make a stop when we need it and for seven or eight games now they've been huge for us."
The Islanders play their regular season home finale on Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.