Beware of teams that appear to have nothing to play for. That's the caveat the Islanders will take into Tuesday night's game against the last-place Panthers, whose 32 points are the fewest in the NHL.
"I've been on teams like that before," Keith Aucoin said after Monday's skate at Nassau Coliseum. "You hear it all the time; people are playing for their jobs. It's a tough thing to play against. They want to be the spoiler. We have to be prepped, give our best effort or they'll beat us."
The seventh-place Islanders are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season. They will have five games left -- all on the road -- after facing the Panthers in the final home game of the regular season.
"We don't have much hockey left," coach Jack Capuano said. "It's going to be hard. That's what we explained to them."
After an emotionally charged, sold-out home game against the Rangers on Saturday night -- which the Islanders lost in overtime, 1-0 -- the Isles might have to create some of their own enthusiasm against the Panthers, whom they have beaten twice this season.
"It's huge," Aucoin said. "We had a real physical and emotionally draining game against the Rangers. We have to make sure we play with the same effort. We need to finish our home games with a win, not only that it's important to the standings. It's almost a must-win game for us."
Travis Hamonic added: "We hold ourselves accountable inside this dressing room. I think as a group collectively, we know how we can play and it doesn't matter who we're playing. We haven't done anything yet, but you can tell we're slowly moving in the right direction. I think there's a maturation process going on with this team and the organization."
John Tavares was asked how many of the remaining 12 points he thinks the Islanders need to clinch a playoff berth. "Obviously, 12 is what we'd like to get," he said. "Obviously, earn as many of these 12 as we can. Every game, we need results. It's a big game, it's our final game at home. We want to take advantage of that, finish the year at home on a good note."
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.