There is still hope. Thanks to Thomas Hickey’s overtime winner at Nashville the other night, the Islanders are still alive for the playoffs. Barely. They need to win out and get lots of help. That is the situation for a resilient team that’s won three in a row to get to 88 points with three games remaining.
They trail the Maple Leafs by five entering tonight’s road match at Carolina. Toronto needs a win in their final three to qualify for their first postseason since 2012-13. They host the desperate Lightning later. Tampa also can still make it but need to win out. They and the Islanders can still finish with more ROW than the Senators, who need only a point to reach 95 which would put them in. Ottawa is at Boston, who clinched on Tuesday. The Sens are banged up and likely will be without valuable captain Erik Karlsson. It’s been a struggle for them. He left the game they won the other night hurt.
The Islanders can’t worry about the scoreboard. They have to concern themselves with the Hurricanes, who can play spoiler. Carolina played well down the stretch and only recently was eliminated. A very good home team with a record of 23-11-5, they’ll take on the Islanders, who enter 17-17-5 on the road. Eddie Lack will start over Cam Ward. The Isles must key on Jeff Skinner, who has been on fire scoring like crazy since I dropped him. He has 35 goals.
For the Islanders, they must do it without captain John Tavares, who suffered a leg injury at the conclusion of a 2-1 home win over the Devils. They’ve shown heart defeating the Sabres and Predators to keep their hopes alive. It’s been on the back of Jaroslav Halak, who’s regained his job from Thomas Greiss. Hard to believe. But that’s the reality with Halak set to make his fourth consecutive start. He’s been splendid since being an emergency recall on loan.
If they didn’t bury him in Bridgeport and go with unproven Jean-Francois Berube as the backup, the Islanders might already be in the postseason. That decision cost them some games in the standings and forced Greiss to be a workhorse when he’d never been one before. He wore down. So, it’s Halak trying to get the Isles in.
They’ve gotten superb play from Anders Lee, who will lead the team in goals. He has 31 on the season and continues to improve. Brock Nelson scored the tying marker in the third period at Nashville. His 18th. Josh Bailey reached 40 assists for the first time in his career. Bailey has had a breakout year with a new career best 53 points. Joshua Ho-Sang has shown potential with four goals and six assists. He has great wheels and skill, making things happen.
The Isles will look to get a win in Raleigh and help from Boston and Tampa. They know if Boston wins over Ottawa, they would tie them in ROW with 37 and be within four with two remaining. They can still beat the Sens out due to the first tiebreaker. The Leafs just need a victory to make it. If they reach 95 points along with Ottawa, it’s over for both the Islanders and Lightning.
It can either be decided Thursday or go into the final frantic weekend. All the Islanders can do is control their part.