PHILADELPHIA — After six weeks of trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole, the Islanders can see a real opportunity ahead of them.
Even with 31 games to go, the next one here on Thursday against the Flyers certainly feels like the biggest game of this Islanders season. The Isles sit three points back of the Flyers with three games in hand; a regulation win would pull the Islanders within a point of the last playoff spot, the closest they would be to an Eastern Conference playoff berth since early November.
“These are the fun ones to go into,” Josh Bailey said. “All day, at the rink, you’re excited, itching to get it going. We’ve had to battle to just get to where we are.”
Fresh off Monday’s 6-5 overtime win over the Maple Leafs, the Islanders are now 17-8-6 in the last 31 games following their awful 6-10-4 start to the season. The Flyers had a 10-game win streak earlier in the year but have sputtered to a 7-10-4 record since and they come into Thursday’s game not having scored a goal in consecutive games.
But the Isles may be just what the Flyers needed to see. Philly has shootout and overtime wins over the Isles this season and the visitors have allowed five goals in three straight games. Despite rallying twice late in the third on Monday, the Islanders have to tighten things up a bit.
“We’ve done some good things now, we’re knocking on the door but we have a little more to give to get where we want to be,” Brock Nelson said. “It’s a huge game. We expect their best and we expect to be ready.”
Notes & quotes: Thomas Greiss is likely to start Thursday. He’s given up 10 goals in his past two starts, something he hasn’t done in his year-plus with the Islanders . . . Doug Weight said Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) won’t be back on the ice until the weekend, meaning he’s sure to miss the next three games at minimum. The Islanders head to Ottawa to face the Senators on Saturday afternoon and return home to meet the Avalanche on Sunday . . . Weight also said Travis Hamonic (knee) is progressing, though he still hasn’t resumed skating. Hamonic has been out since Jan. 8.