There’s a certain combination of intensity and desperation that define playoff games, or a playoff-like game.
The Islanders, after stumbling through some inconsistent performances, believe they got back to that intensity and desperation their last time on the ice.
But only by maintaining that level, and then continuing to raise it, will the Islanders truly be ready for their first postseason berth since 2016.
The Islanders, who did not practice on Tuesday, conclude a stretch of eight of nine games at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum against the Canadiens on Thursday night after Monday night’s 2-0 win over the Blue Jackets in a crucial Metropolitan Division match.
“Yeah, no question,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said of needing to build off the positives from Monday night. “You’d be hard pressed to find a team outside of (NHL-leading) Tampa that hasn’t gone through a little stretch where they’re not on top of it. You’ve got to identify what’s gone wrong and you’ve got to fix it.
“The basis for winning for us has always been hard work, just hard play” added Clutterbuck, whose return from a three-game absence because of an upper-body injury made an immediate impact on the lineup as his fourth line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin helped set the pace. “The execution could probably have been a little better. But the hardness was there and it paid off.”
The Canadiens are certainly desperate as they vie for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, while unlikely to make up enough ground to get into the top three of the Atlantic Division.
The Islanders, chasing the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division, control their own destiny to secure home-ice advantage for the first round.
But a 3-4-0 mark in this stretch at the Coliseum has not helped their playoff push and they are 11-7-2 since returning from their combined All-Star break and bye week on Feb. 1. They went into their extended vacation on a 15-3-1 run.
The Islanders have players who have been quite successful in the playoffs. Defensemen Johnny Boychuk (Bruins) and Nick Leddy (Blackhawks), center Valtteri Filppula (Red Wings) and left wing Andrew Ladd (Hurricanes) have all played for Stanley Cup winners, defenseman Luca Sbisa (Golden Knights) played in last season’s Cup Final. Goalie Thomas Greiss started for the Islanders as they beat the Panthers in the first round in 2016 for the franchise’s first playoff series win since 1993.
But, as a group, these Islanders don’t have the experience of going through a playoff push like the Capitals, who won last season’s Stanley Cup under current Islanders coach Barry Trotz, or fellow divisional foe Penguins, who won back-to-back Cups in 2016-17. Those teams played on Tuesday night with the Capitals coming in on a seven-game winning streak and the Penguins on a 6-2-2 run.
“I know about my old team, they’re ramping it up,” Trotz said. “There’s the pedigree of teams that have been there. They’re raising their games. At this time of the year, everybody raises their game. It’s how much can you raise your game?”
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