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Islanders expect tight race for playoffs right down to the end

Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders

Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders celebrates his goal with John Tavares #91 and Kyle Okposo #21 to take a 1-0 lead over the Los Angeles Kings during the first period at Staples Center on Nov. 12, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Harry How

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was just another morning for the Islanders here Thursday, which is to say they woke up to the news the Rangers had won again, this time over the Ducks in Anaheim late Wednesday night.

Well, OK, perhaps some learned the result before going to bed after a day and night off in this city of abundant social options.

The point is: Seemingly every time they check the scoreboard and /or standings, their Metropolitan Division rivals are winning again.

And vice versa, because the Islanders also have been holding everyone else more or less in place with their generally winning ways.

“There are a lot of good teams in our division; we knew that coming into the season,” Matt Martin said after the morning skate in advance of Thursday night’s game against the Predators. “Everyone in our division has been on a hot streak, and we have been on quite the run and haven’t moved in the standings, really.”

Entering Thursday’s games, here is how the top five Metro teams had done over their previous 10:

Capitals, 6-3-1; Rangers, 6-3-1; Islanders, 6-2-2; Penguins, 7-3-0; Flyers, 8-1-1. The net result is that other than the Capitals, who are running away with the division, no one else has gained separation and the Flyers are back in it.

“You kind of just start to anticipate them winning and know that you have to press and win games,” Brock Nelson said of the Islanders’ division opponents.

“It’s going to be tight down the stretch, so you have to take all the points you can get and not worry about what everybody else is doing, because right now they’re all winning.”

The Islanders and Rangers each would like to finish second and secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Many New York-area hockey fans and journalists would like to see them finish 2-3 in either order to set up their first postseason meeting since 1994.

“We have to worry about what we need to do,” coach Jack Capuano said. “We knew it was going to be like this at the end. You (reporters) might look at it and say Philly’s on a little bit of a run, but we knew teams were going to be there . . . We knew it was going to come down (to the end).”

After concluding the Western Conference portion of their schedule in Dallas Saturday night, the Islanders will see plenty of their division and conference rivals over the final 12 games — eight of them at home.

So rather than scoreboard watch, they often will be able to simply look across the ice at the challenge before them.

“I think in today’s day and age it’s not only in the newspaper where you see the standings, it’s on TV, it’s on your phones and it’s all around the rink,” captain John Tavares said. “So you’re obviously aware of it. I think you have to be at this time of year.

“But there’s still a good month of hockey here before the playoffs, so everyone is playing well, but we have been playing not bad and been earning points ourselves. I think we just feel we can be playing a lot better.

“It’s a matter of keep pushing ourselves, wanting to get home ice. First steps first: You want to get into the playoffs and secure position. A lot of those games are coming up. Each point is valuable, and we have an understanding of that.”

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