Zach Parise #11 of the Islanders skates against the Los Angeles...

Zach Parise #11 of the Islanders skates against the Los Angeles Kings at UBS Arena on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023 in Elmont. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Those among us who watch professional sports for entertainment should know this by now, but somehow, we always seem to forget it.

No matter how many times we assume the worst for teams with injured stars or resting stars or front offices salivating over drafting some college prospect or another, stuff often seems to happen.


Because professional athletes who are not stars or even starters tend to be both extraordinarily prideful and extraordinarily talented – and extraordinarily aware that their future paychecks are on the line.

Take the Islanders’ wild ride of a week on the road to an NHL wild-card playoff berth, which on Wednesday night found them one point away from qualifying against the Canadiens at UBS Arena.

Montreal came into the game with a 31-43-6 record, with one victory in its last five games and having been outscored 15-1 in its three most recent losses.

That included an embarrassing 7-1 loss to their arch-rival Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday.

But there should have been zero chance of the Islanders taking the Habs lightly.

Take Monday, please.

The Islanders lost control of their playoff future by somehow losing, 5-2, to a Capitals team that had lost six games in row, could dress only 17 skaters because of salary-cap constraints and was without Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Nic Dowd, Anthony Mantha and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Washington scored twice in the first 63 seconds and cruised from there. Inexplicable.

Then came Tuesday night, when something even less explicable happened.

The Penguins, now in control of a wild-card spot, lost at home to lowly Chicago, 5-2, a team that was presumed to be angling for the worst record in the NHL to help its draft position.

Nope. Pittsburgh had to win and lost, endangering its 16-year streak of playoff appearances. Chicago had to lose and won.

Zach Parise has been around long enough to know how this stuff works, having spent seven seasons with the Devils from 2006-12 during a period in which the Islanders mostly were also-rans.

Last week he told Newsday, “We’d come in and play the Islanders at the end of the year and they were out of it and have a lot of guys up from Bridgeport. You’d look at the board and be like, ‘Ah, it’s going to be OK.’

“And all of sudden you get hit every time you touch the puck and you lose the game 4-1. Like, ‘What the heck just happened?’ So you’ve got to be careful that you don’t allow that to happen and we do what makes us a good team.”

The Islanders did not deserve the second chance on Wednesday based on what they did on Monday. But in the bigger picture, they did earn it.

After a 2-8-3 stretch to start the new year left them six points out of a playoff spot, things looked bleak.

Then they lost their most dynamic skater, Mathew Barzal, on Feb. 18, and he has yet to return.

Lou Lamoriello made moves, notably acquiring Bo Horvat from the Canucks, key players returned from injury, notably Adam Pelech, and . . . well, there they were in Elmont for what they hoped would be a grand regular-season finale.

But the flip side loomed. Losing under such circumstances to a fellow contender would be one thing, but the Canadiens are a mess, so a loss would be impossible to swallow.

The fact the Bruins surpassed the famed 1976-77 Canadiens on Tuesday night by beating the Capitals to increase their points total to a record 133 only served as a reminder of how much these Canadiens are not those Canadiens.

For the Islanders, none of that mattered on Wednesday night.

When the season started, Montreal had the seventh-youngest roster in the NHL; the Islanders had the sixth-oldest.

There is no time to waste for Lamoriello’s aging crew, which has been aiming all season for one last run at a Stanley Cup before time catches up with them.

But if they did not perform on the ice when it counted, it would not and could not, be for lack of warning.

We all should know better, but this week the Islanders had ample reminders of what can happen before they took the ice to give it their best shot.

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