The Islanders will face either the Capitals or the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs depending on whether they finish third or fourth in the East Division.
But it’s finishing the regular season as strong as possible on Monday night in Boston that’s paramount to the Islanders, regardless of their first-round opponent.
"Anything can happen in this league, so you just want to continue to put as many points up as you can and see where you lay," Jordan Eberle said. "We’re expecting to get a good team, no matter what. You’re going to have your hands full no matter what."
The Islanders left themselves a slim chance of moving up to third with a 5-1 win over the Devils on Saturday night in what might have been the final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum, coupled with the Rangers’ 5-4 win in Boston.
The Islanders, who did not practice on Sunday, can only finish third if they defeat the Bruins in regulation in their regular-season finale and the Bruins then lose in regulation to the Capitals on Tuesday night in Washington in those teams’ finale. Under that scenario, the Islanders would face the Capitals.
Anything else and the Islanders will finish fourth and face the first-place Penguins in the opening, best-of-seven series.
The Islanders had their issues with either potential opponent in the shortened, 56-game season.
They were 2-5-1 against the Capitals, including 0-2-1 in a crucial set from April 22-April 27 with first place in the division still a possibility for both. The Islanders finished 2-4-2 against the Penguins, playing them six times in February and not facing them since acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils on April 7.
But the Islanders did eliminate the Capitals in five games in the first round of last season’s playoffs and they swept a first-round series from the Penguins in 2019 in Barry Trotz’s first season as coach.
"I think we’re OK with whoever the opponent is," Trotz said. "I would like to probably finish as high as you can, if you can get a home-ice round somewhere. This division is very capable of a four seed beating a one seed, or a three seed being a two seed. You just don’t know. You want to play well and get as high as you can. We sort of messed that up that first game against Buffalo [a 4-2 loss to the NHL-worst Sabres this past Monday]."
The Islanders cannot secure home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, which will be played within the division. But the surviving teams will be re-seeded for both the NHL semifinals and Stanley Cup Final based on their records.
That’s why these last two potential points on Monday night are important to Trotz.
"You just want to feel good," Trotz said. "You want to be healthy and you want to be playing a decent game going into the playoffs and that’s where I’d like to finish off against Boston."
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