On April 8, 2007, the greatest poke-check in Islanders history happened.
On Easter Sunday, the NY Islanders defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in one of the most improbable playoff berths in franchise history.
What was even more improbable? Wade Dubielewicz was the hero.
The diminutive 28-year-old goalie, playing in only his 17th NHL game, made poke check saves in the shootout on Brian Gionta and Sergei Brylin to send the Isles into the postseason.
Like this year's team, the 2006-07 Islanders were in a multi-team race for a final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, only their chances appeared far bleaker than they do right now. As the calendar turned to April, the Islanders had four games left to play and trailed three teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Carolina Hurricanes, for eighth place. They were four points out with four games to go. I wonder what the MoneyPuck odds looked like back in 2007!
Playing without franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro, they turned to Dubielewicz to play the last five games of the season. After stopping 42 of 46 shots in a loss to the Ottawa Senators, the playoff chances of the Islanders, a team that had traded for Ryan Smyth at the trade deadline, looked out of reach. But from there, the Islanders would win three straight games, including a shootout win over the New York Rangers, a must-have victory against the Maple Leafs, and defeated the Philadelphia Flyers at the Nassau Coliseum, setting the stage for a win-and-in scenario against the Devils in East Rutherford.
Richard Park scored a pair of a goals to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. The game remaining in their control until John Madden scored at the 15:47 mark to make it a one-goal game. Then, in the final seconds and the extra attacker on, the Devils poured pressure on and Madden scored his second of the game with just one second left in regulation, shocking the Isles.
"That was probably the toughest thing I've ever had to deal with," Dubielewicz said. "I just couldn't believe it. I really couldn't believe that we were that close. I was pretty confident that we were going to win the game at that point. They just kept plugging away, and they were able to get it."
After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout. Miroslav Satan scored first against Devils backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen. Then, Zach Parise, yes, Zach Parise, scored for New Jersey to tie things up. Victor Kozlov scored for the Isles to regain the edge. After Gionta was stopped, the stage was set for Smyth to shoot the Islanders to the playoff, but he was denied by Clemmensen.
That led to arguably the greatest poke check in NHL history. As "Dubie" knocked the puck off Brylin's stick, the bench exploded and rushed out to meet the unlikely hero that had sent the Islanders into to the playoffs to meet the top-seeded Buffalo Sabers.
"We didn't lose any hope," Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt said after the game. "We could've easily said, 'Oh, it's not meant to be.' But guys battled hard in overtime and got us out in the shootout."