The Islanders still have not collectively gotten the 2014-15 Capitals out of their system. The specter remains of last season’s Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
While looking forward to Thursday’s game against the Caps at Barclays Center, the first since a 2-1 loss in Washington last April, some unpleasant memories surfaced.
“I don’t really want to talk about that game anymore,’’ said Frans Nielsen, who scored the lone Islanders goal in that game. “It feels like so long ago. I think we talked enough about that game.’’
The Metro Division leading Capitals hold a 12-point lead over the second place Islanders and the postseason path the Islanders expect to take certainly could include a rematch with the Capitals.
“It always stings,’’ captain John Tavares said. “It’s an opportunity gone. You never know many chances you get to compete for the Stanley Cup. We believed we could have won it, we didn’t, they ended up finding a way. But you learn to live with it, learn from it. It’s about moving forward and actually we want to change that script this year whether against them or whoever we get to play. Obviously, we have to make the playoffs. There’s still that process going on now.’’
Coach Jack Capuano said the Capitals, who lead the NHL with 61 points, are better than last year and the Islanders need to improve as they enter the second half of the season. “I don’t think we played to the pace that we played to last year,’’ he said. “Certain guys obviously are struggling . . . for whatever reason they haven’t played as well as they had last year. But everybody goes through it. We need some guys to step up here but overall with our record and with our goaltending and special teams it’s been pretty solid.’’
The Islanders forced Game 7 by winning Game 6 in what turned out to the team’s final game at Nassau Coliseum. “I think if we were in our building it could have been a different game for sure,’’ Matt Martin said, “but we didn’t have the home ice advantage. That’s the bottom line.
“I don’t know if any building can get as loud as the Coliseum did. But we hope [Barclays] is going to be rockin’ and we like playing in front of a loud atmosphere. That home ice advantage is really a big factor in games. Obviously we’re two teams that don’t really like each other, it makes for a good game and hopefully we’ll come out on top.’’
Notes & quotes: It appears Jaroslav Halak (upper body) is on the verge of returning after Capuano said he was pleased by the goalie’s work in practice.