Anthony Beauvillier scored twice Saturday night for the New York Islanders, who capped one of the most remarkable stories of the NHL regular season by clinching a playoff berth with a 5-1 win over the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
Jordan Eberle, Michael Dal Colle and Ryan Pulock also scored for the Islanders (46-26-7), who returned to the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2016 with a raucous victory in a building they thought they’d left in the spring of 2015.
The Islanders moved from Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center following the 2014-15 season but began splitting their home schedule between the two arenas this season as they wait for construction to begin on a proposed hockey-only building at the Nassau/Queens border.
The Islanders are 12-6-2 at the Coliseum and will close out their home schedule there Monday, when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs and former teammate John Tavares in the home finale. All first-round home games will be played at the Coliseum. Should New York advance, it will head back to Barclays Center for the home games in subsequent rounds.
Most prognosticators expected the Islanders, who missed the playoffs by 17 points last season, to contend for the top pick in the lottery after Tavares departed for his hometown as a free agent last July 1.
But instead, the Islanders rebuilt on the fly under new general manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach Barry Trotz and ended up rewarding a long-suffering fan base by clinching a playoff berth on home ice for the first time since the 2002 season.
The Islanders will enter the final week of the season four points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for second place and home-ice in the Metropolitan Division and three points behind the first-place Washington Capitals. New York, which faces the Capitals in next Saturday’s season finale, hasn’t won a division title since 1987-88.
The sellout crowd of 13,917 buzzed from faceoff and roared when Eberle put back the rebound of a Mathew Barzal shot to put the Islanders ahead at the 7:41 mark. Beauvillier missed a penalty shot following his takedown fewer than five minutes later, but he scored 8:20 into the second and New York basically put the game away when Dal Calle scored with 33.2 seconds left in the period.
Pulock scored 30 seconds into the third and Beauvillier added his second goal at the 6:07 mark.
Victor Olofsson scored with 6:32 left to snap the shutout bid by Robin Lehner, who made 31 saves.
Goalie Carter Hutton recorded 33 saves for the Sabres (31-37-10), who have lost six straight (0-5-1) and 13 of 14 (1-11-2).