Short of lifting the Stanley Cup, there’s always another goal to accomplish.
So, the Islanders know the next one after clinching a playoff spot would be to finish as high as possible in the East Division standings to try and secure home-ice advantage for at least one round.
"Just to get to the playoffs, it’s a hard task," Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. "It was our goal at the start of the season, to get into the playoffs. We all know once you get there, anything can happen. You’re going to play good teams. Every team has earned their spot in the playoffs so they’re all good hockey teams."
The Islanders needed a regulation win over the Rangers on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum — very possibly the last-ever game between the rivals at the barn — to clinch a third straight playoff berth under coach Barry Trotz.
They reached the second round in 2019 before being swept by the Hurricanes. Last season, playing in summer playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Islanders reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993.
This season, playoff games will again be played at home arenas. The East’s top four teams will qualify and the first two rounds of the playoffs will be all divisional matchups, as is the case during the regular season.
"That’s going to be a goal after [clinching], just to maybe set ourselves even higher," Pageau said. "We know how good we are on our own rink so, definitely, we want to finish as high as we can."
The Islanders entered Saturday with a 19-3-3 record at the Coliseum compared to 11-12-2 on the road.
"That’s definitely a goal of ours," defenseman Nick Leddy said of securing home-ice advantage. "It’s definitely an advantage, especially with our home crowd and that’s something you definitely want in playoffs. But, the goal is to make it. We’ll take it game by game and go from there."
New York state guidelines currently limit attendance at the Coliseum to 10% of capacity, or 1,400 fans. The state has already said attendance at indoor arenas will increase to 25% on May 19, which would coincide with the first round of the playoffs. That would allow 3,500 to attend Islanders’ games at the Coliseum.
Leddy said any fans make a difference, even though it’s still way short of the Coliseum’s capacity of 13,913.
"It’s huge," Leddy said. "At the end of the day, the crowd gives us energy, that little extra energy that you don’t really notice sometimes. That is huge for the guys and huge for momentum, especially in the playoffs. Playoffs are momentum games."
Of course, until that checkmark goes next to the team’s name in the standings, indicating a clinched playoff spot, the Islanders did not want to get ahead of themselves.
"The main thing, right now, is just to keep going on what we built on the last game," Pageau said of Thursday night’s 4-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden that snapped an 0-2-1 skid. "I thought we were very solid in every zone and we played a full 60 minutes. That’s our main focus right now, try to keep pushing in the same direction to get ready."
"Our goal is to get into the playoffs, No. 1, and finish as high as we can," Trotz said. "If we get home ice, that’s terrific. That would be our next goal. But, first, let’s get into the playoffs. There’s not much separating all the teams so you’re looking for any advantage you can get."
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