Not long after the Islanders pulled back into a tie with the Washington Capitals for first place in the East Division with Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders quickly turned their attention towards what lies ahead. After a day off on Wednesday, the Islanders will begin a stretch of three straight games against the Capitals starting Thursday night at “The Barn” and continuing on Saturday night at the Coliseum with the finale being next Tuesday in Washington.
There are six big points at stake and perhaps more if any of the games require more than sixty minutes to decide a winner and the Islanders are now laser focused on the task at hand.
“You have to find a way to turn the page quickly whether you have a good one or a bad one,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey who scored two goals and added an assist on Tuesday night in his return to the lineup after missing two games.
“I think when you have a good one, you try to ride that wave forward and keep that confidence and we’ll look to do that. It’s not going to be easy. Washington and us have had some tough games this year and I’m sure Thursday will be no different.”
These three games between the Islanders and Capitals will be huge but there are also other teams involved in the fight for first in the East Division. The Islanders and Capitals have 62 points while the Pittsburgh Penguins are one point back with 61 and the Boston Bruins are four points behind the Isles and Caps with 58. The primary goal is to maintain one of the top four spots in the division and clinch a playoff spot, but first place is certainly an objective as well.
With Tuesday’s win, the Islanders not only picked up two big points, but they also took two points away from the Rangers who are trying to catch the Bruins for the fourth playoff spot and currently trail by six points.
“They don’t always come easy,” said Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “Especially at this time when everyone is trying to make a push for the playoffs and we’re trying to keep our spot.”
The entire 56 game NHL schedule this season is being played within a revised geographical divisional alignment. That format has made just about every game feel like a playoff contest for the Islanders, especially against their crosstown rivals the Rangers as well as their traditional Metropolitan Division rivals like the Capitals and Penguins. So, given the physical nature of these games, sometimes it takes some intangibles in order to secure each precious point. With that in mind, forwards Michael Dal Colle and Leo Komarov have played important roles in these back-to-back wins over the Flyers and Rangers.
And it’s expected they’ll be called upon to be a part of these three big games against the Capitals.
“They put honest efforts in and they play an honest game,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz of Dal Colle and Komarov. “Leo is a real honest player. He’s a pain in the rear end to play against and he plays that heavy game.”
The Islanders haven’t finished in first place since winning the 1987-88 Patrick Division title and they certainly have a shot to end that drought this season. The division will not be decided after these three games, especially with the Penguins and Bruins still in the mix, but the Islanders are feeling pretty good about themselves right now. After those back-to-back losses in Boston, the Islanders came up with a huge overtime win in Philadelphia and followed that up with a blowout win over the Rangers.
With their magic number to clinch a playoff spot down to 8 points over the Flyers and 11 points over the Rangers, these three games against the Capitals are huge for the Islanders for two reasons. First, they can continue to refine their game against a quality opponent and inch closer to punching their ticket to the playoffs. And second, it’s a chance for them to separate themselves from Washington and put themselves in a better position to win the division.
A New Barzy Bobble:
On Wednesday, FOCO unveiled a new Mat Barzal Thematic Bobblehead. It features the 2018 Calder Trophy winner and two-time NHL All-Star in the Islanders’ home blue jerseys on a base that includes a tribute to Long Island with a lighthouse and an ocean.
With the Islanders playing their final season at Nassau Coliseum before moving to UBS Arena at Belmont Park, the bobblehead represents the team’s return home to Long Island and the long-term roots that have been planted.
“Now that the Islanders are going home, we thought it was the right time to theme the bobble around the Island itself,” said FOCO Marketing Coordinator Anthony Davino. In our opinion, the lighthouse represents more than just a hockey team and was the obvious choice for this piece.”
Barzal is the Islanders’ leading scorer with 38 points this season. He is also tied for the team lead with 25 assists and is tied for third in goals with 13. Earlier this season, FOCO debuted a Barzal bobblehead as part of their “Bubble Hockey” series. Considering his star power and that the season the Islanders are having, the timing was right for another bobblehead.
“Absolutely,” said Davino. “The Islanders are a Stanley Cup contender, especially after they loaded up at the deadline. Barzal has proven himself to be one of the league’s elite young players and his dynamic brand of hockey lends itself perfectly to this product.