Islanders coach Jack Capuano knows that his players have read the articles. They've seen the blogs. They've heard the prognostications from talking TV heads. The Capitals are favorites to win this first-round series.

He doesn't have a problem with it.

"Everybody is picking Washington," he said. "I like being the underdog . . . know. They look at the brackets and the people on TV -- the TV's running every morning seeing who they're picking. For us, we might be the underdog, but I'm stressing how good of a team they are. We finished with 101 points for a reason."

Said defenseman Johnny Boychuk, with the succinct assurance of someone who's played a playoff game (or 79): "It doesn't mean nothing. People can make predictions, but the playoffs are a new season."

It"s something Capuano has said over and over and over -- it's a new season, a new game. But the truth is that the Islanders have played the Capitals tight all year, and the two teams split the season series, with wins going to the home team. Both Islanders wins went to overtime, and the Capitals won one of their two via shootout. True, the Islanders likely must play without injured defenseman Travis Hamonic, and the last month of the season was not kind to them (4-7-3 since March 10).

But "they're very deserving of being here," Capuano said of his squad. "We went through some injuries, too. We've got a lot of depth on this team. My focus now is to make sure that we perform at the highest level that we can possibly perform at."

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That means going skate-to-skate with some of the most prolific scorers in the league -- from Alex Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom to defenseman John Carlson. It also means solving Braden Holtby, a goalie who plays the puck so well, he's like a third defenseman, Capuano said.

"Obviously, we're underdogs," he said.

But for him, that's just fine.