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Ducks clinch playoff berth with win against Islanders

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Anaheim Ducks are assured of being part of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New York Islanders still have some work to do.

The Ducks became the third team to clinch a berth in the playoffs by defeating the Islanders 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.

Rickard Rakell, Kyle Palmieri and Andrew Cogliano scored for the Pacific Division-leading Ducks, who became the second Western Conference team to qualify.

Some of the Ducks said they were surprised to find out they had secured their playoff berth.

"We clinched?" Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said with a smile. "I hadn't mentioned it to the players at all. We just want to keep going and progressing. If we do that, all the other stuff just falls into place."

The "other stuff" includes finishing first in the Western Conference and winning the Presidents' Trophy as regular-season champion. Anaheim (48-22-7) is one point ahead of the Nashville Predators for first place in the conference and the NHL standings; the Predators, who defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Saturday to clinch their playoff berth, have a game in hand.

"We were pretty well aware that we were going to be in the playoffs at some point. It's just a matter of where we finish," Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "Our goal doesn't change; we just want to keep going and doing the same things."

The Ducks were not trying to play down what they've achieved.

"For six months, it's a really good accomplishment," Boudreau said. "But as soon as April [11, the end of the regular season] comes around, no one thinks about the regular season anymore. For six months, it's a real battle to get into the playoffs in the NHL these days. There are a lot of good teams, and it takes consistency over a long time."

That's what the Islanders (44-27-5) are finding out now. Three weeks ago, it looked like they would cruise into the playoffs and perhaps win the Metropolitan Division. But a 1-6-1 slide has them looking to make sure they qualify for the postseason rather than worrying about a division title.

New York dropped to third in the division after the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 on Saturday. The Islanders and Penguins each have 93 points, but Pittsburgh has one game in hand and one more non-shootout win.

The Islanders are 0-6-1 in their past seven home games and host the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

"It's that time of year when you have to fight for every inch of ice, and clearly the mistakes we're making are costing us," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "We're not capitalizing on our chances."

New York doesn't appear to have the same jump it did earlier in the season, when their up-tempo style of play helped make them one of the NHL's highest-scoring teams. But defenseman Johnny Boychuk denied that fatigue has played a role in their slump.

"No, I don't think so," he said when asked if the Islanders were tired. "We had a couple of days this week that we didn't practice. I think we're fine. We just have to bear down and support each other.

"We have a lot of skill in here, but we have to limit the turnovers and just do the right things. When we try to get a bit fancy, we bite ourselves."

Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and center Casey Cizikas scored for the Islanders, and goalie Michal Neuvirth, making his first start since March 17, made 21 saves.

The Ducks took a 1-0 lead at 8:23 of the first period after the Islanders failed to clear their zone. Patrick Maroon stretched to keep an attempted pass in the zone and set up Rakell for a shot from the slot that Neuvirth stopped. Rakell got to the rebound in the right corner and threw a pass into the crease, where Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy poked the puck into his net. Rakell was credited with his eighth goal of the season.

Anaheim dominated play for the next few minutes before New York began to generate some offensive-zone time. After a good forechecking sequence, the Islanders tied the game 1-1 at 17:08 when Visnovsky stepped into a slap shot from the left point that hit Anaheim defenseman Simon Despres and deflected into the net. It was the fifth goal of the season for Visnovsky, who missed the previous four games with a lower-body injury.

The Ducks took a 2-1 lead 1:46 into the second period on another fortunate bounce. Tavares failed to clear his zone, and James Wisniewski's slap shot from the right point was deflected by Leddy's stick right onto the stick of Palmieri, who spun free in front of the net and slid a backhand past Neuvirth for his 14th goal of the season.

Rakell made a superb defensive play seven minutes later when he raced back to keep Cizikas from getting off a good shot on a breakaway. Andersen preserved the lead two minutes after that by robbing Tavares and Ryan Strome on back-to-back shots during a long 5-on-3 power play for the Islanders, who went 0-for-4 in the period.

"For Freddie's mindset, it was huge," Boudreau said. "It could have changed quickly in that 5-on-3, and he made three 10-bell saves."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said, "You have to try to find a way to score [on the power play], especially against a team like that. Their guy made some key saves. We had enough chances to score, but it all comes back to the power play tonight."

Cogliano made it 3-1 at 15:11 of the second when a pass by Cam Fowler sprung him past the defense, and he beat Neuvirth with a backhand deke for his 14th goal of the season.

Cizikas made it 3-2 with 5:36 remaining in the third period when Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner gave away the puck off the left post and Cizikas stuffed it past a surprised Andersen for his eighth of the season.

The Ducks are 2-2-0 on a five-game road trip that ends Sunday against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. Anaheim started with losses at the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets before defeating the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime Thursday.

"The way we're playing in the last two games is way more the right way," Boudreau said. "We made a mistake to make it 3-2, but other than that, I thought this might have been our best road game in a long time."

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