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Islanders on verge of playoff berth

The Islanders celebrate a goal by John Tavares

The Islanders celebrate a goal by John Tavares in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers in a NHL hockey game at Nassau Coliseum. (April 9, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The next biggest game of the Islanders' remarkable run comes Saturday afternoon. This one, against the surging Jets in the always-loud MTS Centre, could be the one that puts the Islanders in full command of a playoff berth.

Not that the Isles haven't been playing like a team in total control of its destiny. They flew here after practicing in Toronto Friday after a 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday night. That brought the Isles to 10-1-2 in their last 13 games, 7-0-2 in their last nine. They are 13-5-2 on the road, tied with the top-seeded Penguins for the fewest regulation road losses in the Eastern Conference.

A regulation win Saturday would put the Islanders five points up on the Jets with three games to play, all but assuring the Isles of their first playoff berth since 2007 -- and likely their first playoff berth with a seed higher than No. 8 since 2002.

"We've kind of just done what we've been doing the last few weeks,'' Travis Hamonic said of the win in Toronto in which the Isles erased a two-goal deficit. "It's just about chipping away, not getting down on yourself. We've done that enough now this season; it's not a crazy thing for us.''

They are facing a Jets team that absolutely, positively needs to win to keep its own late-season charge alive. The Jets sit in ninth place, three points behind the Isles and two points behind the Rangers and the Caps, who have the third seed with the Southeast Division lead. All four teams have four games left.

Winnipeg still could get in with a loss Saturday (the Jets face the Caps on Wednesday), but it would become a much more difficult task.

So Winnipeg is desperate, but the Islanders have gotten 16 of a possible 18 points in April by not concerning themselves too much with what their opponents need.

"There can't be any panic this time of year,'' coach Jack Capuano said. "I've said it a lot: Winning games this time of year is about winning battles, winning your shifts and winning periods. You focus on the little things.''

And those could add up to big things Saturday.

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