Islanders head coach Patrick Roy looks on in the third...

Islanders head coach Patrick Roy looks on in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues at UBS Arena on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

BUFFALO — Of course, Thursday night’s match against the Sabres at KeyBank Center is not, mathematically or otherwise, a must-win for the Islanders. Because they can still qualify for the playoffs without these two points.

But, psychologically, this certainly seems like a game the Islanders have to have, for a few reasons.

Most important, the Islanders need to reinforce the improvements they’ve made to their confidence, mindset and on-ice play by getting right back on the winning track after having their season-high six-game winning streak snapped in Monday night’s playoff-like 3-0 loss to the Kings at Crypto.com Arena.

Secondly, they surely want to end this four-game road trip on a good note after opening with a 7-2 win over the hapless Sharks and a 6-1 victory over the slightly more competent Ducks. The Kings are a playoff-bound team and the Islanders were playing on the second night of a back-to-back. But the Sabres are barely on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff chase and a loss to send the Islanders home with a split would turn what started as a promising road trip into a very disappointing one.

Thirdly, the Islanders, who slipped out of a wild-card spot with Monday’s loss, must be very judicious as the season winds down in not giving away points to lesser opponents.

“Let’s think about the next game now,” coach Patrick Roy said in Los Angeles. “We’ve got to start. We lost [Monday]. Now we have to be ready for Buffalo. We’re playing good hockey and that’s the important thing to me. We played a good hockey game here. They didn’t play last night. We played last night. It was a 1-0 game until midway of the third period. I’m very pleased with the effort. It was playoff hockey.”

The Islanders are battling the Lightning and Red Wings for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots while still trying to chase down the third-place Flyers for a guaranteed playoff position in the Metropolitan Division. The Red Wings lost Tuesday night to Buffalo. 

They face each of those three teams one more time this season and 10 of the Islanders’ last 18 games are against teams currently holding a playoff position.

Both the Flyers and Lightning play eight teams in a playoff spot as of Tuesday in their last 17 games.

The Red Wings have 17 games remaining, but only six of them are against teams currently holding a playoff spot.

The Islanders are 6-3-2 against teams in a playoff spot since Roy replaced the fired Lane Lambert on Jan. 20.

“We’ve had a pretty good run until this point,” Brock Nelson said after the loss to the Kings. “Obviously, losing, no matter what the scenario is, hurts. So, we reassess and now we go attack in Buffalo.”

As of Tuesday, MoneyPuck.com was calculating the Islanders’ playoff odds at 51.8% and projecting them to finish with 91.5 points. Last season, the Islanders qualified with 93 points and the playoff cutoff was 92 points.

The Islanders can reach a maximum of 108 points — spoiler alert: they’re not going to win out — so not gaining two against the Sabres won’t be fatal to their playoff pursuit.

Still, these two points feel absolutely necessary as they face the Rangers, Hurricanes, Red Wings and Jets — all playoff teams — next week.

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