Islanders claim final playoff spot; Penguins' 16-year streak ends

Brock Nelson scores his second goal of the night (0:58)

Brock Nelson gives the Islanders a two-goal lead in the second period. (0:58)

ELMONT, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Wednesday night to clinch the final Stanley Cup playoff berth and eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins, ending their streak of 16 straight playoff appearances.

Brock Nelson had two goals, while goalie Ilya Sorokin made 17 saves.

"It's exciting. Going from looking pretty dark for 24 hours to clinching a spot at home, it's awesome," Islanders winger Zach Parise said.

The last time Pittsburgh didn't take part in an NHL postseason was 2005-06, Sidney Crosby's rookie season. Their 16-year streak -- the longest active run in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB -- included a qualification-round loss in 2020, when the NHL expanded the playoffs to 24 teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The victory ended a roller-coaster 48 hours for the Islanders. On Monday, they were stunned on the road by the short-handed Washington Capitals 5-2, which gave the Penguins control of their own playoff fate. But Pittsburgh squandered that control Tuesday night with a loss at home to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks 5-2. The Islanders needed only to earn a point against the Canadiens to clinch a postseason berth.

"You go from being in the absolute dumps to watching the Blackhawks win that game last night [and] you get some life," Parise said. "You just had that feeling of, 'OK, we're back.' It was exciting coming to the rink this morning."

Islanders captain Anders Lee said the team had to get into the right frame of mind after the loss in D.C.

"You name the emotion and we felt it on Monday night. We were pissed off, disappointed in ourselves. You can't do much about it until something else happens. Obviously, last night, that stuff changed," Lee said. "We came to the rink Tuesday morning and regrouped. We started that mental process of putting ourselves in the right headspace to play this game."

With the win, the Islanders (93 points) moved one point ahead of the idle Florida Panthers (92 points). Florida concludes its regular season on Thursday night at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.

If the Panthers win that game in regulation, overtime or a shootout, they will face the first-place team in the Metropolitan Division and the Islanders will face the Boston Bruins, who this week set NHL single-season records for wins and points.

If the Panthers lose to Carolina in overtime or a shootout to earn one point, they'll face the Bruins. While the Islanders and Panthers would each have 93 points, New York would own the second tiebreaker, which is combined regulation and overtime wins. The Islanders would have 41, while Florida would have 40.

Parise said the next few days for the Islanders will be spent resting up and preparing for their first-round opponent.

"Now it gets fun, when you zero in on a team. Focus in on their strengths and weaknesses. It turns into a chess match," he said.

The Islanders took a 1-0 lead with 9:33 left in the first period Wednesday as Nelson snapped a shot past Montreal goalie Sam Montembeault. It was Nelson's 35th goal of the season.

The Canadiens equaled the score on a one-timer from forward Rem Pitlick, but the Islanders recaptured the lead 1:19 later. After Parise's shot ricocheted off the crossbar, Hudson Fasching tucked home the rebound for his 10th goal of the season.

Nelson scored again at 10:20 of the second period to make it 3-1, but the Canadiens weren't done. Nick Suzuki scored a spectacular short-handed goal at 16:38, sliding to the ice on one knee and whacking the puck with one hand on his stick over Sorokin's glove.

Lee iced it with a power-play goal late in the third period.

The Islanders finish their regular season with a 42-31-9 record and 93 points, nine better than last season when they failed to qualify for the playoffs. They made a coaching change in the offseason, firing Barry Trotz and replacing him with assistant coach Lane Lambert.

New York managed to make the playoffs despite missing star center Mathew Barzal since Feb. 18 because of a lower-body injury. Lambert said Barzal is day-to-day and would not confirm if he'd be available for Game 1 of the playoffs.