As the Islanders filed out of the visitors' locker room at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., late Saturday night -- rather quietly for the postgame of a 4-3 win over the Panthers, given there was none of the usual loud music or chatter that follows a win -- the question arose:
Who are these Islanders? They have mixed in a couple of clunkers this season with a few dominant performances. They have looked like a different team from period to period, a maddening inconsistency that reared its head again Saturday, when they coughed up a 3-0 lead to the NHL's worst team in the span of 1:43 early in the third period.
The Isles rescued themselves for a regulation win, but this sort of foot-off-the-gas game is familiar this season. Although the Islanders are 8-1-1 when leading after two periods, three of those wins, all in the last two weeks, have come when the opposition has rallied to tie in the third.
"It seems to happen a different way each time," said Brad Boyes, who scored 33 seconds into the second to give the Isles a 3-0 lead. "We've had a lot of those moments we can learn from this season. There's inconsistency, obviously, but I think we get a little more resilient each time something happens."
Now is the time to transfer that still-forming mental toughness back to Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders (13-12-3) play four straight, beginning Tuesday against the Senators. Montreal and Pittsburgh, the two hottest teams in the East, follow with back-to-back visits Thursday and Friday.
For the Isles to sustain what they accomplished at the tail end of their recent seven-game homestand and in their Florida swing, this week would be a good time to show what they've learned. The last time they were more than a game over .500 this late in a season was March 6, 2008, when they were 32-30-7. But that Ted Nolan-coached team went 3-8-2 down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
Ancient history, of course. But the Islanders have been good enough at times this season to make one wonder how they can be so bad at times. With 20 games to go, they need to smooth out the peaks and valleys to make progress.
Notes & quotes: Michael Grabner (shoulder) is eligible to come off injured reserve Tuesday but still might need a few more days to work his way back into the lineup.