Islanders beat Devils 4-2, but eliminated from playoff hunt
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By TOM CANAVAN
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New York Islanders are finishing the season as one of the NHL's hottest teams - and one with no place to go, except home.
The Islanders were eliminated from playoff contention Saturday night despite running their winning streak to five games with a 4-2 decision over the New Jersey Devils behind two goals by Anders Lee and 37 saves by Jaroslav Halak.
Roughly an hour after the win, the Islanders' playoff hopes were dashed when the Toronto Maple Leafs clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by rallying for a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What made the Islanders' late run so remarkable was that they did it with captain John Tavares sidelined for the last four games with a lower-body injury.
"I just think a lot of guys have really stepped up," Lee said. "In the absence of Johnny, we've all stuck together and had a good focus and we had a job six games ago to close it out the best we could and we've done that so far. I think guys have all been leaders in this room and we go out every night and try to make things happen."
The Islanders were last in the conference in mid-January and made a run that had them in a playoff spot on March 24. They lost the next three games and never made it back to a postseason position.
Toronto came into the day needing a win to secure the final berth and it nailed it down with three goals in the final 5 1/2 minutes, eliminating both the Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"We play simple," Halak said before Toronto won. "We're not trying to make complicated plays. We cycle the puck well and it's working for us."
Beau Bennett scored twice for the Devils, who have three wins in their last 23 games (3-16-4).
"We had our opportunities," said Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who had 16 saves. "Halak has our number (11-4-2), just like (Steve) Mason (Philadelphia) doesn't have our number. He has been playing well obviously since he has been back up here and definitely a key driving their team."
Halak kept the Islanders in the game early, stopping 14 first-period shots, including a breakaway by Taylor Hall.
New York broke through early in the second period when Pelech sent a puck from his own right circle up the side board. Nikolay Kulemin collected it and found Pelech coming down the middle of the ice for Pelech's third goal.
Lee, who leads the team with 33 goals, got his 32nd on a deflection of Nick Leddy's shot seconds after an Islanders power play ended.
Chimera extended the lead to 3-0 early in the third period, finishing off an odd-man rush with Alan Quine for his 19th goal.
Bennett scored his seventh of the season a little more than a minute later, when his bad angle shot slipped through Halak's pads, and the goaltender inadvertently kicked it into the net.
Lee made it 4-1 with a power-play goal in close at 8:11, his fifth goal in the Islanders' winning streak. Bennett's second goal of the game came with 3 seconds remaining.
NOTES: Retiring New Jersey all-time points leader Patrik Elias took part in the pregame skate. He did not play this season. ... Islanders won the season series 3-1. ... After opening the season at home with an 8-0-2 mark, New Jersey finished 12-23-6 at the Prudential Center.
Islanders: Visit Ottawa for the season finale Sunday.
Devils: At Detroit to face the Red Wings Sunday in the final game at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.
Updated April 8, 2017