Hold off rally by Caps, clinch playoff berth
By Alan Hahn
April 7, 2002
Among the healthy scratches last night for the Islanders: Jim
Cummins, Mats Lindgren and one agonizing, eight-year itch.
For the first time since 1994, the Islanders are going to the
playoffs. The clincher came with a wildly emotional 5-4 win over the
Washington Capitals in front of a wildly emotional sellout crowd at
Nassau Coliseum. The win upped the Islanders' point-total to 90, the
first time they've reached that number since 1985-86.
"It's an awesome feeling," said defenseman Kenny Jonsson, who has
suffered the longest as an Islander, a distinguished member since
March 13, 1996.
Jonsson was on the ice during a chaotic final minute of regulation,
when the desperate Capitals pressed for the tying goal. Claude
Lapointe, who is second in tenure behind Jonsson with an Islanders
career that began Aug. 22, 1996, also was out there.
While Jonsson was banging bodies in the slot, Lapointe was throwing
his in front of pucks. He then won the game's final faceoff at center
ice and basked in the adulation of a crowd that has waited just like
him for this moment to come.
"I said it back in training camp," Lapointe said, "the reason I re-
signed here was because I knew this organization would turn it
around . . . It was worth the wait."
Steve Webb (he totaled eight hits last night), the mostly overlooked
banger on every given night, couldn't keep his rugged, battle-scarred
face from grinning like a child. The playoffs are something he'd only
watched on television after the season was over. In a little more
than a week, he'll live the experience.
"I just can't wait," he said.
For the rest of the Islanders, however, this is only a beginning.
The playoffs were an expectation, not a goal of this team, despite
their seven-year drought and last-overall finish in the NHL standings
"I'm looking forward to the playoffs," said rookie coach Peter
Laviolette, one of five key new faces brought to the team by general
manager Mike Milbury. "I guess I'm glad there's an X next to our
name, but I didn't think there wouldn't be."
The Islanders also took care of some other business last night. The
win put an end to a 22-game winless streak against the Capitals,
which was the longest current streak between any two teams in the NHL.
"I think we did a good job putting aside a lot of bad tradition,"
Laviolette said. "It's nice to kill two birds with one stone."
Of course, as this organization has realized time and again over the
past eight years, it wouldn't come easy. The Islanders took a 5-1
lead early in the third period before the Capitals, who trail eighth-
place Montreal by three points with four games left, mounted a
The Isles led 2-1 after the first on goals by sudden cult hero Oleg
Kvasha (the crowd chanted "O-leg! O-leg!") and Eric Cairns, who also
had a solid game helping mark Jaromir Jagr. In the second, they got
goals from Jonsson and Jason Blake to open a 4-1 lead before Michael
Peca capped it at 1:24 of the third, triggering a chant of "Play
offs! Play offs!" from the crowd, waving white T-shirts that
read "We're Back!" given out before the game.
But after the Caps closed to within a goal, the building was sent
into a nervous frenzy. Goalie Chris Osgood made some huge saves and
Jonsson and Lapointe led a defensive stand to finally put the game
away. The team mobbed each other at center ice under a shower of T-
shirts and cheers.
"It makes me so proud of my teammates and my organization," said
Cairns, who is in his fourth season as an Islander. "We've been
through the crap and now we've seen the light."
It's time to bask in it.
INSIDE GAME 78
RECORD: 39-27-8-4 LAST SEASON: 20-48-7-3
PLUS: Classy move to select the most tenured - and tortured -
Islanders, Kenny Jonsson, Claude Lapointe and Steve Webb, as the
three stars of the game.
MINUS: Attention Colin Campbell, Chris Simon's cross-check to Michael
Peca's head deserves some sort of action by the NHL. It was clear
intent-to-injure and, if anything, a deliberate blow to the head.
5 KEY MOMENTS IN THE ISLANDERS SEASON
1. Nov. 19, 3-2 win in Dallas: After an 11-1-1-1 start, the Islanders
were reeling on a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) with a daunting
schedule ahead. But behind two power-play goals by Alexei Yashin,
they beat the Stars and began a six-game unbeaten streak.
2. Jan. 30, 6-3 win at Rangers: Alexei Yashin scored a first-period
hat trick, Eric Cairns gave Sandy McCarthy a much-anticipated beat-
down and the Islanders took an emphatic win at Madison Square Garden
that starts a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1).
3. Feb. 12, 1-0 OT win in Philadelphia: The last game before the
Olympic break was a classic, won by Michael Peca with a shorthanded
breakaway goal with 8.7 seconds left in overtime. Snow had 25 saves
for the shutout in his first start since Jan. 25. The Islanders went
3-0 in Philadelphia for the first time in franchise history.
4. March 16, the Meeting: Following another troubling effort in a
loss in Ottawa, the team held a heated 50-minute closed-door meeting
and aired out their concerns. The trade deadline passed March 19 with
no major changes other than the addition of defenseman Darren Van
Impe. That night, they battled Toronto in a 4-3 OT loss that became a
building block for a 6-2-1-1 run in the next 10 games.
5. April 6, the Clincher: The Islanders built a 5-1 lead in the third
and hung on to stop a 22-game winless streak vs. the Caps.