Brock Nelson scored the shootout winner as the New York Islanders beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Thursday night at BB&T Center, moving the Isles within one point of securing home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Nelson slipped a backhander five-hole on Sam Montembeault in the fourth round of the shootout on Thursday, the lone goal for either side in the bonus round. Nelson also scored the Islanders lone goal in regulation, while Jonathan Huberdeau scored the only goal for the Panthers.
With the win, the Islanders (101 points) hit the 100-point mark for the 10th time in team history - and third in the past five seasons. The win also assures the Isles of a top-three finish in the Metropolitan Division, though the Washington Capitals (104 points) clinched the division title with a win over Montreal.
Video: NYI@FLA: Nelson goes five-hole to seal SO win
"It would have been fun to play Saturday for the division," Mathew Barzal said. "Washington is obviously one of the best teams in the league, if not a Stanley Cup favorite, so for us to be right in the hunt with them is a credit to how good our season has been."
While the division title is now settled, the Islanders will still play for home-ice advantage in Saturday's regular season finale. A point locks up home ice - for the first time since 1988 - while a loss leads to all sorts of scenarios involving the Pittsburgh Penguins (99 points) and Carolina Hurricanes (97 points) - who both won on Thursday. The Isles' first-round opponent will also be determined on Saturday.
"We still have something to play for," Head Coach Barry Trotz said of home-ice implications. "That's good for our group to learn to play for something. It's easy to play for nothing. It doesn't take anything. There's no weight on your mind… It prepares us."
Thursday's game was a preparation of sorts as well. Trotz was concerned about process in the leadup to the postseason and the stingy Islanders delivered another low-scoring affair, controlling much of the first two periods, only allowing a power-play goal in the third.
Video: NYI@FLA: Nelson one-times feed from Dal Colle
After outshooting the Panthers 16-4 in a one-sided, but scoreless first period, Nelson opened the scoring 1:50 into the second, converting a one-timer from Michael Dal Colle in the slot. Nelson's 25th goal of the season puts him one shy of matching his career-high (26) set during the 2015-16 season.
Apart from a pair of posts at the end of the first period and a Huberdeau shot off the iron in the third, the Isles didn't give the Panthers much. Armed with the league's second-ranked power play Huberdeau eventually converted on a breakaway with 7:15 to play, but that was the lone belmish on an otherwise sound night from Thomas Greiss (29 saves).
The Islanders goalie was rock solid after the tying goal, turning away all three shots he saw in a back-and-forth overtime, before denying all four Panthers chances in the shootout.
"We just wanted to take care of our business," Nelson said. "We came out aggressive and on the attack… Good for us to stick with it after they got the power play goal. Greiss made a couple big saves and was huge in the shootout, so good win for us."
Video: NYI 2 vs FLA 1 (SO): Brock Nelson
HICKEY IN FOR BOYCHUK:
Thomas Hickey returned to the lineup after a six-game absence, replacing Johnny Boychuk on a pairing with Nick Leddy. The defenseman skated 19:19 TOI with two shots and three blocks, but also took both Islanders penalties on the night.
"He played well. I don't have any issues other than the two penalties," Trotz said. "He made some really good exit passes and defended pretty hard and well."
The Islanders wrap up their regular season on Saturday night in Washington DC. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.