Only eight weeks remaining until the regular season ends.
These next few weeks feature teams jostling for a place in the Stanley Cup playoffs and home-ice. The Metropolitan Division reflects that with all six teams in a logjam for a spot in the playoffs. The first three teams that have the most points in the division make the playoffs while the rest battle it out with the Atlantic Division teams (outside of the top three) for the wild-card spot, which features two teams qualifying.
Heading to Tuesday night’s NHL games, the Islanders entered their game as one of the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division with 70 points after a 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals Monday night. Yet, the wild-card Philadelphia Flyers trailed them by one point at 69 after a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers Monday night.
As fate would have it, the Islanders would play the Flyers on Tuesday night at Barclays Center. Both teams came off a game from the previous night. A victory would turn out to be a boon for the winner by getting four points in two nights.
In a game that turned out to be a must-win for both teams, the Islanders came out as victorious in a 5-3 thrilling victory over the Flyers.
We call it thrilling for two reasons. One, Ryan Pulock’s slap shot goal turned out to be the game-winner 51 seconds after the Flyers tied it at 3 in the third period on Sean Couturier’s goal. Two, the Islanders denied the Flyers of a point since they won it in regulation.
The Islanders love to shine in uncomfortable situations. Islanders head coach Barry Trotz embraces his team to be uncomfortable, so that he can see whether or not this team has the mettle to handle it such as Tuesday night. The Islanders continue to be resilient going back to last season in Trotz’s first season by performing under adversity, so it shouldn’t be surprising the Islanders found a way to handle a tough spot once again after blowing a 3-0 lead that had the Flyers scored two goals within two minutes in the second period and then tied it with 1:32 to go in regulation.
Don’t assume the Islanders prefer to win games that way. It’s just that they are used to playing games where they need to be on edge. They handle close games or down-to-the-wire games much better than taking a three-goal lead, which they tend to lose focus. Remember this is the same team that blew a 4-1 lead against the Capitals by letting their opponent score five goals on them in their 6-4 loss on Jan. 18. On Monday night, the Islanders let the Capitals be in the game by having them score two goals on them after they took a 5-1 lead, and they survived in the end to win.
This can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the Islanders know how to win games when they make it hard on themselves, and a curse because a team can only do so much going down that hole to the point it can burn them in the end just like on Jan. 18.
Face it. Had the Islanders lost this game, we would be criticizing them for taking it easy and wanting to make it hard on themselves. We would scream that the chicken would come home to roost.
Again, the Islanders prefer to win blow out games if possible, but they know it’s the NHL and anything can happen quickly, especially with an early lead.
Anders Lee, Pulock and Trotz mentioned the Islanders’ resilience to the local media after the game. This speaks well of how well-coached they are that they are not fazed when the going gets tough, and it also speaks well about the character of the players.
This attribute serves the Islanders well in the grind of a long season, which ups and downs turn out to be part of a team’s life. It could also serve them well come playoff time where everything becomes tense and the game gets ramped up to 100 mph.
The Islanders handle the grind of this season as well as anyone expected. They should be good enough to make the playoffs when the regular season ends on April 4. Their last two games show they are primed for the playoffs.
Of course, the Islanders must make moves in the trade deadline to bolster their chances of winning the Stanley Cup. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has to find a way to get a scorer that can complement Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, and they need to find a stay-at-home defenseman to replace Adam Pelech, who is out for the season with an Achilles injury.
But with all that said, no one can complain about what the Islanders have done so far this season.
It would be surprising if they miss the playoffs.