Scratch. Claw. Repeat.
This is the formula now for the Islanders, who have 28 games left after Saturday's 2-1 overtime win over the Kings and plenty of points and places to make up in the Eastern Conference standings.
As assistant coach Doug Weight noted between the second and third periods to the Islanders, who are 7-2-2 in their last 11, the time for beautiful plays and pretty games is over.
"From February on, it's going to be ugly," Matt Moulson said. "In an ideal world, we'd play three perfect periods and come out with a great win. But two points is two points."
The 11th-place Islanders were eight points behind Toronto for the final playoff spot entering Saturday night's games.
The Isles were outplayed in some stretches Saturday by a team as offensively challenged as they are. The Kings came in with a league-low 119 goals and one of the best goaltenders in the league in Jonathan Quick. With the Islanders at an East-low 128 goals and boasting one of the hotter goalies around in Evgeni Nabokov (34 saves), the game figured to turn on a small play here or a mistake there.
Mark Streit decided it in overtime with a one-on-four rush through the neutral zone that turned out to be a fairly pretty play. He undressed Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, then slid a backhand shot through Quick's legs at 1:36.
The Islanders had the better of the play through the third period but were pushed around at times by a physical Kings team that pumped 35 shots at Nabokov and held a 24-12 edge in shots through 40 minutes.
"We tried to be a little too cute at times, and it almost cost us, except for Nabby making some big saves," said Streit, who missed all of 2010-11 because of shoulder surgery and has had a stretch of six to seven games of high-level play after a very sluggish first half. "We're still a young team. It's a process."
Michael Grabner jumped on a ricochet in a crowded slot to score his 15th goal at 6:52 of the first period, his first goal in eight games. The Kings also scored from in close, with Dustin Brown's rebound shot tipped in by Andrei Loktionov at 5:20 of a Kings-dominated second period.
There were 89 hits recorded, 48 by the Isles. After driving right through Trevor Lewis, Matt Martin clocked his chin on the dasher in the third but returned; Moulson took a cross-check to the ribs that knocked his wind out, and P.A. Parenteau jostled with Drew Doughty. The usually placid Andrew MacDonald led the Isles with seven hits and jousted with Brown all game long.
Said Martin, "It's playoff-type hockey for us from here on out."
And very little time for the Islanders to catch their breath. The Panthers, one of the teams within shouting distance above the Isles in the Eastern Conference, come for a visit Sunday afternoon. But the Islanders can't worry about the opponent or the standings for now.
Said Nabokov, who was saved by the post on Willie Mitchell's screened shot at 9:36 of the third and was stellar the whole way through: "We just have to find ways to win. Nothing else matters."