TORONTO -- Perhaps the pressure is off for the Islanders now, with fewer than 10 games to go and the playoffs still too many points and teams away.
But perhaps, with a core that will be returning next season regardless of what happens down the stretch of this one, the Islanders need these last few games to remind them of what can happen when they compete and mix it up for a full 60 minutes.
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The 5-2 win over the reeling Leafs Tuesday night wasn't decided until the final minutes. Matt Moulson jammed in a power-play goal with 6:04 to go, breaking a 2-2 tie and giving the Islanders their first lead in a game they dominated for long stretches.
"You always have to find the motivation, even if you're far away from the playoffs," said Evgeni Nabokov, who only faced 14 shots. "You still have to have the pride in the room. That's what it comes down to: Play with pride and passion, and see what happens."
The Islanders are still not mathematically out of the Eastern Conference race after taking four points from this Canadian swing through Montreal and Toronto, sitting nine points back of the Caps with nine games left.
But that is beside the point to the team's best player. John Tavares had three assists and continued to play as hard as he did on day one this season. His example was followed by just about everyone Tuesday night.
"We just want to have the right approach, play our game, play out the season and build off that," Tavares said. "We had a rough couple weeks, but we know we can control how we play and approach these games and we all want to be better."
They erased deficits in the first and second periods, first on Josh Bailey's 11th of the season off a perfect feed from Tavares, then on a one-handed tip-in by David Ullstrom off a great pass from Michael Grabner.
In the third, with the game tied and facing a team that got an 8-0 shelling from the Bruins a night earlier, the Islanders dictated the play, rolling four lines effectively and breaking through on a late power play with some more hard work from Tavares and Moulson, who had whiffed on a golden chance late in the second with the game tied.
"I hate losing. Johnny, P.A., the rest of the guys -- we all hate it," said Moulson, who took the team lead in goals with his 32nd into an empty net with 1:35 to go. "We want to win every time we step on the ice and show what we can do."
There are nine games left and not much time to do that. The pressure may be off as far as the postseason goes, but the Islanders still have plenty to play for.