The New York Islanders will have to wait for another day to clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Red Wings, fueled by two goals from Sergei Fedorov and timely saves from Curtis Joseph, moved two points closer to top spot in the West with a 5-2 win over the Islanders in the last regular season game at Joe Louis Arena.
Fedorov opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game. Brendan Shanahan made a good pass to Fedorov flying up the middle of the ice. Fedorov split between two Islanders defenseman and backhanded a shot right through young goalie Rick DiPietro. “It was great for us to get the first goal, because those guys are fighting for a playoff spot,” Fedorov said.
Joseph maintained his team’s fragile lead after a miscue by the Wings’ defense allowed the Islanders to charge in on net. With a flying poke check, Joseph knocked the puck away, then scrambled out of the crease after it, grabbing it and covering it up near the top of the left faceoff circle to force the stop in play.
Kris Draper increased Detroit’s lead to two goals with 12:44 left in the first. Kirk Maltby centered a pass to Draper from the right boards, and Draper tipped it in from right in front of the goal crease. It didn’t look like much of a scoring chance, but DiPietro had come out of the net to play the puck away from Darren McCarty just a second before it got to Maltby, and he hadn’t quite gotten back into position to stop Draper’s tip.
The Red Wings got their first power play opportunity of the game shortly thereafter, when Oleg Kvasha was sent to the box for tripping, and Fedorov added his second goal of the night. He held the puck in at the right point on an attempted clear by the Islanders, then shot the puck on net. DiPietro was being screened by Tomas Holmstrom, and the puck deflected up and into the net.
The Islanders finally got on the board late in the period. Kvasha carried the puck into Detroit’s zone and threw it towards the net. It took a strange bounce out of Joseph’s field of vision, and Alexei Yashin was able to backhand it into the net.
The Red Wings’ second power play goal of the night came midway through the second period. Steve Yzerman sent a pass across to Mathieu Schneider at the left point, and Schneider one-timed a hard shot which beat DiPietro through the five-hole.
New York again scored late in the second period to cut their deficit to two goals. Chris Chelios was in the penalty box for holding. Yashin carried the puck over the blue line and let fly a hard shot. The puck changed direction slightly when it deflected off the stick of Kirk Maltby, and it flew up and into the net.
The Islanders weren’t able to take any momentum from the late goal into the third period, however. The Red Wings shut them down completely. “I thought we played great in the third period,” said Joseph, who only had to stop two shots during the final twenty minutes.
Luc Robitaille put the game away for good with 3:58 left to play. Igor Larionov made the onside pass which sent Robitaille up the ice on a clear-cut breakaway, and Robitaille put the puck high over DiPietro’s shoulder.
Shots on net totaled 23 for New York and 27 for Detroit. The Red Wings will close out the regular season on the road, beginning tomorrow night with a visit to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Jiri Fischer was examined by team doctors today and found to be nearly ready to go. Dave Lewis isn’t taking any chances with his young defenseman’s knee, however. Fischer will not play in either of the games this weekend, but will likely return early in the first playoff round…. Fedorov’s two goals were the 398th and 399th of his career…. The team announced today that negotiations to sign Fedorov to a new contract would be put on hold until after the playoffs. Fedorov shrugged it off. “All my focus is on hockey and finishing the season on a good note and see where we end up,” he said. “I don’t want to be the center of attention before playoffs start, I just want to do my job.” Of course, if he wants to make himself the center of attention DURING the playoffs, with plenty of scoring and excellent defensive play, who are we to argue?