RALEIGH, N.C. — The Islanders improbably remain in contention for the second and final wild-card playoff berth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, with a narrow, complicated path still to navigate.
One road requires them to beat the Devils on Saturday and the Senators on Sunday while the Maple Leafs lose to the Penguins and Blue Jackets, with at least one of those losses in regulation time.
But for that math to work, the Isles will need to win both games in regulation or overtime, enabling them to pass the Maple Leafs in the regulation-and-overtime-wins tiebreaker if both finish with 94 points.
That reality could make for some complicated strategizing for coach Doug Weight. In theory, it might benefit the Islanders to pull their goalie in overtime to secure a win before the shootout for tie breaker purposes. Trouble is, that logic could depend on results from elsewhere. Both Saturday and Sunday, the Leafs’ games will begin (and presumably end) one hour after the Islanders’, so Weight won’t know the full landscape.
The Islanders could avoid R-O-W concerns if the Leafs lose both of their games in regulation. That way, the Islanders would finish with 94 points if they win two and the Leafs would be stuck at 93.
But wait: The Lightning has 92 points and a game left. Tampa Bay has 37 R-O-Ws to the Islanders’ 37. More complications could ensue there, including the remote possibility of a three-way tie in which the Isles would lose out based on head-to-head tiebreakers.
A Lightning loss last night would have given the Islanders one fewer thing to worry about, but the Lightning beat Montreal, 4-2.