With a shutout of a playoff-bound foe Friday night, the New York Islanders provided more evidence of the Stanley Cup contender they were and believe can be again.
A stunning collapse Saturday afternoon reminded the New Jersey Devils just how far they have to go to rejoin the ranks of Eastern Conference powers.
The Islanders (31-27-9, 71 points) will look to continue their late-season surge Sunday afternoon, when they are slated to visit the Devils (24-38-6, 54 points) in a battle of longtime Metropolitan Division rivals in Newark, N.J.
The Islanders were off Saturday after beginning a five-game road trip Friday night with a 4-0 win over the New York Rangers. The Devils will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set at home after squandering a four-goal lead in the third-period Saturday afternoon and falling to the Florida Panthers 7-6 in overtime.
Semyon Varlamov’s latest road shutout of the Rangers — Varlamov stopped all 27 shots he faced in blanking his club’s archrivals at Madison Square Garden for the fourth straight time — gave the Islanders their third straight win and left them 11-4-1 in the past 16 games dating back to March 5.
The hot stretch is almost surely coming too late to save the playoff hopes of the Islanders, who enter Sunday 13 points behind the Washington Capitals in the race for the final wild-card spot in the East. New York has 15 games left while Washington has 14 remaining.
But the Islanders’ steady play since an 11-game losing streak in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak — they are 26-17-4 since snapping the skid Dec. 7 — has New York believing it’s close to regaining the form it displayed during back-to-back runs to the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals each of the past two postseasons.
“We’re professionals here, and at the end of the day, we’re building towards something that’s bigger than Columbus or anything,” center Mathew Barzal said after the Islanders beat the Blue Jackets 5-2 Thursday night to move into ninth place in the East.
“We’re building towards (winning) a Stanley Cup. Whenever that time comes to get that opportunity, we’re just trying to be ready for it,” Barzal added.
The Devils, who are on pace to miss the playoffs for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons, have shown signs of progress with wins since Jan. 1 over the top four teams in the Metropolitan Division — the second-place Rangers and fourth-place Capitals as well as the first-place Carolina Hurricanes and third-place Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Devils had a chance to author another statement victory Saturday by winning the rubber game of the three-game season series with the Panthers. But after a hat trick by Yegor Sharangovich led New Jersey to a 6-2 lead, Florida scored four goals in a span of 13:02 in the third before Gustav Forsling collected the game-winner 1:45 into overtime.
The loss marked the fifth time this season the Devils have allowed at least seven goals in a game. New Jersey has surrendered 254 goals, fourth-most in the NHL.
“We should be talking about an unbelievable hat trick by (Sharangovich), a great game by him, a big win by us,” Devils defenseman Damon Severson said. “Unfortunately, we’re talking about a great hat trick by him and a loss by us.”
–Field Level Media