To Islanders' relief, Brock Nelson is back on the ice after taking big hit
Lane Lambert acknowledged the obvious:
It was a positive that Brock Nelson was a full participant during Thursday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.
“Very good,” said Lambert. The Islanders lost Nelson for most of Tuesday night’s 7-2 rout of the Maple Leafs after the All-Star was checked from behind by Leafs right wing Noel Acciari into the right corner end boards late in the first period. Nelson stayed down on the ice for a few moments before being helped to the room by a trainer, and he did not return.
During the post-practice media availability, Nelson, who estimated he received six stitches over his right eye, explained the decision not to have him return to the game was made out of an abundance of caution, which Lambert confirmed.
“He seems like he’s okay,” Lambert said. “So that’s good.”
Especially when you factor that the Islanders have 10 games remaining this season — beginning with Friday night’s game in Columbus and Saturday’s late afternoon affair with the Sabres at UBS Arena — and are already missing Mathew Barzal and Sebastian Aho.
Lambert did not have an update on either player. Barzal has missed 13 games with a lower body injury after being checked into the boards by then-Bruin Craig Smith on Feb. 18, while Aho was lost to an undisclosed injury after a hit from San Jose’s Kevin Labanc in the first period of the Islanders’ 4-1 win on Mar. 18. Without Barzal, the Islanders' top-line right wing, the Islanders have compiled a 9-3-1 record.
Entering the back-to-back against the Blue Jackets and Sabres, the Islanders (37-27-8; 82 points) hold the first Eastern Conference wild-card spot, two points ahead of the Penguins (35-26-10; 80 points) and three ahead of the Panthers (36-28-7; 79 points).
And to hear Scott Mayfield, they are aware of what is taking place in Pittsburgh and South Florida.
“I try to watch the games at night,” Mayfield said. “Or the highlights at least. [There are] teams [that] I track when you get down to under 20 games [remaining in the regular season]. It gets closer, you start seeing teams that might be in it or might not be. It can flip like that. Look at two weeks ago, [the standings] looked a little bit different than it does now.
“In the end it’s all about what you do. It’s about us coming to the rink and getting better [and] just [making] sure we show up for our game.”
Considering that the Eastern Conference-worst Blue Jackets (22-41-7; 51 points) and sixth-in-the-Atlantic Buffalo (33-31-6) are, for all intents and purposes, preparing for the off-season, does that make the next two games must-wins?
“Every game the way I look at it is two points,” Mayfield said. “Every game is two points no matter who you’re playing. Whether it’s a team you might see in the playoffs, a team that is battling with you for the playoffs, a team that’s not in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter. For us, it’s two points. It’s how we play and you just look at the standings — it’s so close. Every night it can change. It’s all about getting the wins and getting the points.”