By Daryl Damato
They’re so eager to make their presence felt this season that they even paid for a helicopter to fly out from North Jersey and make its way up I-95 to their home arena in Brooklyn. But they’ve also won seven games in a row heading into tonight’s showdown with the Washington Capitals.
The Islanders are looking to be the first team to sweep a season series of two games with their longtime rivals, but in order to do so they’ll need to leave Washington with a 4-0 record. The only win during the seven-game win streak was a 6-5 overtime victory back on March 2. In the six others, they’ve been outscored 11-2.
“We have to be quick, finish our checks, protect our goalie as best we can and attack, attack, attack,” assistant captain Josh Bailey said after practice on Monday. “If we can get back to attacking the puck as much as we have lately and going to the net with both feet, I think it will be a lot more fun for us.”
Josh Bailey in the Islanders’ locker room Monday. Thomas VanOverschoten/New York Islanders
Veteran defenseman Nick Leddy, who has been on injured reserve since Feb. 24 with a broken leg, was wearing a boot on his left foot during the workout but there’s no indication that it’s anything serious.
Injuries have knocked goaltender Jaroslav Halak out of the past three games. After Thomas Greiss helped to deliver the first win of the streak by earning a 3-2 victory in overtime against Tampa Bay on March 17, Halak was sharp in earning a 3-1 win in Toronto just five days later.
But Halak is in the lineup tonight, while Greiss, a free agent, awaits the outcome of Friday’s season finale between his former squad and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders, 11th in the Metropolitan Division and out of the playoff picture, certainly have a lot of work to do if they are to make the postseason. And while no one’s saying that there will be any progress made here on Monday, there is an attitude of, “every situation is a learning experience.”
“It was a big win for us. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the last game and getting some momentum for the last quarter of the season,” forward Matt Martin said. “If we can win here, we go into Montreal and get a big point, it all starts in the playoffs. It gives us that confidence to win anywhere.”
New York Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak. Thomas VanOverschoten/New York Islanders
“We’ve been playing really well,” said defenseman Thomas Hickey. “We talk about home-ice advantage a lot and what an advantage that is in the playoffs, so we definitely want to get home ice throughout the whole playoffs. It’s a big game for us as a team, for these coaches, for me personally. It’s my first time on the road for this game.
“For this dressing room, we don’t have time to dwell on what hasn’t happened. We just focus on what’s in front of us. If we do that, it will be a good night.”
The Islanders are also gaining ground on the playoffs by winning as much as they are. After carrying a nine-point lead over the Rangers for the last remaining spot in the postseason, they are now only five points back. The lead is projected to be one when the Rangers play the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely nice to get those points. We want to play playoff hockey, we’ve played to that point but what really matters is the points we’re getting now,” Martin said. “That’s what we’re focusing on. We’re going to focus on the Capitals and we’re going to try to win these games.”