With eight games to go in the regular season, the Islanders have a few things left on their to-do list that need to be checked off. The first and most important thing they have to do is punch their ticket into the playoffs and right now they’re magic numbers to do so are 8 over the Rangers and 5 over the Flyers. The Blueshirts and Philadelphia are the only two teams that are on the outside of the playoffs looking in that can mathematically catch the Islanders.
Once the Islanders can get the asterisk next to their name in the standing, meaning that they have clinched a playoff spot, their next objective is to try and finish as high as they possibly can among the four East Division teams that will make the playoffs. Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Capitals in Washington, the Islanders currently sit in third place in the division with 63 points, three points back of the second place Penguins and four points behind first place Washington. Also, the Isles hold a slim three-point lead over the fourth place Bruins.
With four losses in their last five games, the Islanders are also trying to get their mojo back and get their game together as they hope to make another deep playoff run and challenge for the Stanley Cup. So, how do the Islanders find the balance of wrapping up a playoff spot, making a final push for the division title, and also find the magic that they had earlier in the season that seems to have vanished?
“Those kind of go hand in hand,” said Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. “I think you want to push to the last game. When we hit the ice, no matter what game it is, what time of the year, we’re out there to win games. That’s why we play. I think you want to push as hard as you can and just make sure we’re playing our best hockey going into the playoffs.”
After Saturday night’s 6-3 loss to the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum and a day off on Sunday, the Islanders were back at practice Monday at the Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. During this condensed 56 game all-divisional regular season, there have not been many opportunities for the Islanders to get a lot of practice time in. One reason is that there has been, aside from a few scheduling changes, games being played just about every other day.
Even on days where there aren’t games scheduled, the Islanders are also trying to mix in some rest, both physically and mentally.
“I go into every week where I go ok this is what the plan should look like,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “Hopefully with the good weather, the guys can get out and get a walk in. Balancing practice and the importance of the games has been a hard thing to do because all the guys are pushing hard. We’re in a playoff race from basically day one.”
And there lies the bottom line for the Islanders and that is to simply make the playoffs. While the players, coaches and fans would love to see the first division title since 1987-88, the key is to make the playoffs and have their game in order once the post-season rolls around. Sometimes it’s just the team playing well when the playoffs commence and not the team that finishes in first place that is poised to make a long run.
What the Islanders are trying to do is go about their business and let the chips fall where they may.
“We’re approaching it every night the same way,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “You go out and we want to be trying to play our best hockey at this time of year and trying to win games. For us, I don’t think the approach has really changed. It’s just the one game at a time mentality that we’ve had all season long and that’s going to continue.”
Eight games to go. As the New York State Lottery slogan goes, “you have to be in it to win it.” So, for the Islanders, task number one is clinching a playoff spot and then hope to be able to scratch off the winning numbers to take care of some unfinished business from last season.