Pens hope to clinch postseason berth against Isles

( – The New York Islanders clinched a playoff spot on an off
night and the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to achieve the same goal on Friday
when they host the Isles at CONSOL Energy Center.

Tonight’s contests pits a pair of struggling Metropolitan Division clubs
against each other, as the Pens have lost four straight and the Islanders have
dropped five of seven. New York’s recent funk isn’t going to prevent it from
making the playoffs, but it’s still possible Pittsburgh’s slide could cost it
a postseason berth.

The Islanders secured a trip to the playoffs after the Florida Panthers
defeated the visiting Boston Bruins on Friday night. New York is currently
third in the Metro with 98 points, two more than the Penguins, who are holding
onto the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Isles also are
three behind Washington for second place in the division and get to use a game
in hand over the idle Capitals on Friday.

Pittsburgh is one point ahead of the Bruins for the East’s final playoff
berth. The Pens have two games left and could lock up a postseason spot by
gaining a total of two points from tonight’s tilt and Saturday’s regular-
season finale in Buffalo. Pittsburgh also would get in if Boston loses its
last game of the season Saturday in Tampa.

The Penguins had lost three straight in regulation before picking up a point
from Tuesday’s overtime loss in Ottawa. Considering Pittsburgh blew a 3-0 lead
in the game and a regulation win would have clinched a playoff berth, it was
not an ideal result.

Sidney Crosby opened the scoring just 10 seconds into Tuesday’s game and his
Pens would build a three-goal cushion before the game was 15 minutes old.
However, the Senators would claw their way back into the contest and
eventually tied it at 3-3 in the closing minutes of regulation with goaltender
Andrew Hammond pulled in favor of the extra attacker.

Mike Hoffman fired a wrist shot from the point past Fleury to even things and
send the game to overtime, where Stone won it at the 2:43 mark.

Crosby and Patric Hornqvist each had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh,
while Marc-Andre Fleury made 40 saves in a losing effort.

“If we got that fourth (goal), we’d be in a lot better situation,” Crosby
said. “They got a good bounce on the short-handed one in the second and
(we’re) probably guilty of sitting back a bit.”

In addition clinching the club a playoff spot, a win tonight also would move
Pittsburgh in front of Ottawa. The Senators have 97 points and have yet to
a postseason berth.

The Isles also lost in heartbreaking fashion when it dropped a 5-4 decision
Tuesday in Philadelphia. New York came back from a 4-1 deficit in the third
period to tie the game, but Jaroslav Halak surrendered a fluky goal just
before the horn sounded at the end of regulation.

On the game’s final shift, Flyers forward Brayden Schenn was squared up
against Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic along the left-wing boards and
released a shot which handcuffed an unscreened Halak and went into the net
with just 2.1 seconds left.

The shocking game-winner came moments after Anders Lee tied the game for New
York with 28 seconds left in the third.

“It hit my stick, I thought I had it inside of me and it was behind me. I gave
up a bad goal,” said Halak. “Obviously I take full responsibility for the
loss. We all make mistakes, bad timing for me. I just gotta shake it off and
get ready for the next one.”

Halak stopped 22 pucks and will get the start again tonight. He is 5-4-0 with
a 2.21 goals against average in nine career games against the Penguins.

John Tavares posted a goal and two assists for the Islanders, who skidded to
their ninth loss in 12 games. Johnny Boychuk added a late tally for the

New York is closing out its road schedule tonight before hosting Columbus on
Saturday to end the 2014-15 regular season. Saturday’s game will be the club’s
final regular-season test at Nassau Coliseum, as the Isles are moving to
Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the start of next season.

The Isles have won three straight in this series after dropping its previous
four against the Pens. Pittsburgh has claimed four of the past six encounters
in the Steel City.