WASHINGTON — The Islanders are nine points behind the Capitals and battling to remain in a playoff position. But they still believe they can catch the Metropolitan Division leaders.
“Yeah, I think we can catch anyone,” defenseman Devon Toews said. “We feel like we can get hot quickly and we feel like we have the game right now to do so. A 17-game stretch like we had earlier in the year [15-0-2 from Oct. 12 to Nov. 23] is tough to do again, but anybody can get hot in this league.”
The teams will meet for the fourth and final time in the regular season on Monday night at Capital One Arena after the Islanders opened this two-game trip and stretch of six of seven on the road with a 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin still needs two goals to become the eighth player in NHL history to reach 700 after being held off the scoresheet in Saturday’s 7-2 loss to the visiting Flyers.
The Capitals won the two games in New York but the Islanders beat them, 4-3, at Washington on Dec. 31.
The Islanders are in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot. If the season ended today, they would meet the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s never over until it’s over,’’ Anders Lee said. “If you ever stop believing in yourself or your team . . . ’’
Lee paused before adding, “It doesn’t matter where we are now, it’s all about where we finish. There’s a lot of hockey left.’’
But that’s a great hockey team over there, so we’re going to have to really rise to the occasion. Coming off a loss, it’s a really big one.”
The Islanders are one point ahead of both the Hurricanes and Flyers and could find themselves out of a playoff position with a regulation loss on Monday.
“I don’t even worry about the standings,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I’m just going to worry about trying to win a game against Washington.”
The Islanders thought they had the last time the teams met. But the Capitals rallied for five third-period goals in a 6-4 win at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 18.
“We’ve just got to play 60 minutes. That was kind of our fault there,” said Toews, who drew Trotz’s ire for “poking the bear” by mocking Evgeny Kuznetsov’s unique, birdlike goal celebration after putting the Islanders ahead 4-1 late in the second period.
“We’d play a good 20 or a good 40 and, for 20 minutes, we’d lull to sleep,” Toews added. “The last four, five games, we’ve been really good and diligent about playing a 60-minute effort.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders did not practice on Sunday, so there was no update on defenseman Ryan Pulock. He appeared shaken and did not return to Saturday’s loss after Alex Killorn drilled him into the boards at 18:28 of the third period.