BOSTON -- It's hard to identify the point this season when the Islanders shed their fragile reputation. There were fits and starts throughout the season, but a three-game losing streak at home last month, all games in which the Islanders led in the second or third periods, seemed to reinforce the feeling that this team was not quite ready to make the leap to respectability.
But since those three losses -- to sure-fire playoff teams in the Penguins and Canadiens, and another to the Senators, who are tied with the Islanders with 44 points -- they have shored up their play late in games, turning from a team fearful of blowing it to a team that can up its play as the minutes wind down.
"I think we've built up a foundation here," Matt Carkner said after the Islanders' latest win, 4-1, over the Flyers on Tuesday. "You do the right things over and over, you're going to build confidence. Consistency was our biggest problem before, and now we have something to go back to when we're struggling, or when we need to keep a lead."
The Islanders have either led by a single goal, been tied or trailed by a single goal after two periods in all nine games of the 7-1-1 run they bring to Boston for Thursday's game with the Bruins; the last time the Islanders had a two-goal differential after 40 minutes was on March 19 against the Senators, and the Islanders gave up a 3-1 lead in a 5-3 loss that was supposedly a sign of the "Same Ol' Isles" problem that's plagued them for several seasons.
But clearly, they are not the same struggling team. That was exemplified on Tuesday, when the Islanders were mediocre at best for the better part of two periods, yet still took a 2-1 lead into the third and turned their game up a notch, going in for the kill rather than waiting for the Flyers to surge.
"We just have to continue to play the way we need to play," said Jack Capuano, who hasn't allowed himself much excitement over this stretch. "That has to be our mindset moving forward."
Even though the homegrown core of the Islanders have never been in a playoff chase, much less a playoff game, Capuano has few worries about his team getting youthful jitters beginning at TD Garden Thursday night.
"With this group, maybe getting too excited would be a good thing," Capuano said with a hint of a smile. "There's some different cats in that room. But they know what we need to do. Not much needs to be said."