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Islanders must hold leads to hold on to hopes

Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes

Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save against Brock Nelson #29 and Josh Bailey #12 during a game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. (Jan. 16, 2014) Credit: Getty Images

The Islanders can look at their inability to hold early leads in recent games in a couple of ways.

There's the more optimistic outlook -- they have been alert enough off the puck drop to race out to 2-0 leads on the Flyers and Penguins, two teams a fair bit ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings.

But the realistic outlook is that the Islanders lost both of those games, by 6-4 scores, and that those are four monumental points lost in the Islanders' long-shot quest to reach the playoffs after a dismal first half of the season.

"It's a fine line in how we react after getting those leads," said Josh Bailey, who scored his first goal in 37 games as the Islanders tried but failed to rally in the third period against Pittsburgh on Thursday. "We don't want to sit back, because we've seen what happens when we do that. And you don't want to gamble too much, because we're playing good teams who can take advantage of our mistakes."

The Islanders managed to fall into each trap Bailey outlined in their two collapses.

In Philadelphia on Saturday, a 2-0 lead quickly became a 3-2 deficit, which then turned to a 4-3 lead after two periods. But in the third, the Islanders mustered only three shots and the Flyers broke the Isles down to tie, then lead, then clinch with an empty-net goal.

On Thursday at home against the Penguins, Sidney Crosby quickly got his team even in the first period by taking advantage of a couple of missed assignments by the Islanders in their own zone. That wasn't exactly gambling; more like playing with fire, given Crosby's general excellence and in particular his ability to humble the Islanders throughout his stellar career.

"We're there, but we're not there" was how a perturbed Jack Capuano put it after Thursday's loss.

The Blues come to the Coliseum Saturday afternoon and, despite their 7-1 shelling at the hands of the Devils on Tuesday, St. Louis is a team that gives away very little and capitalizes on mistakes often. They have allowed 116 goals, third-fewest in the league, and their plus-57 goal differential is best in the NHL.

So a 2-0 lead against them would be rare and precious. The Islanders need to start treating those leads preciously.

New York Sports