It wasn’t a playoff game.
But it was played like one.
In a game with building intensity and physicality, with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders waging puck battles all over the ice and open shots hard to find, the Islanders emerged Friday with a 3-0 victory at PNC Arena.
With the Eastern Conference standings so tightly bunched, the game decided which team held a wild-card playoff position and which team was on the outside looking in. The Islanders (29-25-6) moved up with 64 points and the Canes (27-23-9) fell one point below the cutline after a second straight loss.
Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk scored midway through the second period, beating goalie Cam Ward with a shot from the right point, the puck knuckling its way to the net. Forward Anthony Beauvillier then made it a 2-0 game in the third, converting a Canes turnover near the blue line into a breakaway score and John Tavares had a late empty-net goal.
But the unexpected star for the Isles was goalie Thomas Greiss, who had 45 saves in his first shutout of the season. He came into the game with horrible goaltending numbers — a 4.03 goals-against average and .891 save percentage -- and the Isles’ 3.61 GAA and 36 shots allowed per game also were league worsts.
“But we couldn’t buy one tonight,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Carolina’s Jeff Skinner had Canes fans in the crowd of 15,448 on their feet in the third. Skinner appeared to have tied the score 1-1, banging a shot from the low slot past Greiss for what would have been Skinner’s 200th career goal.
But Islanders coach Doug Weight challenged the score, claiming Skinner was offside on the right wing on the zone entry by the Canes’ Victor Rask and the challenge was upheld after review. No goal.
“I tried to slow up as best I could and I probably should have tried to drag my foot,” Skinner said. “It was close.”
Peters said before the review he had been told by his video coaches that Skinner was offside.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I was disappointed obviously. But we knew. … Our guys thought it was offside and the video proved that.”
Close call, but it went the Isles’ way. So did the game.
The Canes, after playing eight straight games at home, took to the road Thursday for a Metropolitan Division game with the New Jersey Devils. Because of the quirky NHL schedule, it was their first matchup this season and the Devils broke open the game in the third period for a 5-2 win.
That set up Friday’s game — the Canes and Isles, with the Canes needing a victory to keep playoff position with 23 games left in the regular season. And with Ward in net after Scott Darling started against New Jersey.
The Islanders shut out the New York Rangers 3-0 on Thursday as goalie Jaroslav Halak had 50 saves. Weight then turned to Greiss, who in four starts since Dec. 31 had allowed 19 goals.
But Greiss stopped 16 shots in a scoreless first and went on from there. The Canes’ Brett Pesce hit the post with a shot in the first, but the Canes couldn’t beat Greiss this night.
“He was a big piece of the win but on the team’s behalf, I thought we had the best effort we’ve had in front of Thomas the past six weeks,” Weight said. “We were in lanes, we were making good plays.”.
Ward also made his share of strong saves in the game, denying Andrew Ladd - a former Canes forward and one of Ward’s closest friends — in the second.