To have gotten to this point, still alive in the playoff race entering the final weekend of the regular season, is a minor achievement for the Islanders. Four straight wins, three without John Tavares and all of them needed to stay alive — it may all be too little, too late, but it’s still something.
“Pride is great, but there’s still that ‘h’ word: Hope,” Doug Weight said on Friday following an optional Islanders practice in Newark ahead of the next do-or-die game against the Devils on Saturday. “I am proud of the last four, of how we’ve done it with some really good efforts, shaking up the nerves of some teams ahead of us.”
There’s only one team that matters now and that’s the Leafs, who sit three points ahead with two games to go. There’s a few permutations with regulation/overtime wins vs. shootout wins, but the most direct path for the Islanders is a simple one. Beat the Devils and then the Senators on Sunday and hope the Leafs lose in regulation to the Penguins and Blue Jackets.
Weight’s patchwork Islanders lineup the last three games may get a boost from the return of Nikolay Kulemin on Saturday after the big winger has missed the last seven with an upper-body injury. But they’ve managed to stay alive while missing Tavares, who won’t play this weekend with a hamstring injury; Ryan Strome, out since March 22 with a broken wrist; Casey Cizikas, done for the year after needing surgery on his hand and Travis Hamonic, sidelined with a left wrist/hand injury.
“It’s been something like 170 points out of our lineup,” Weight said, “and that’s a pretty big number these days. Hopefully it’s something like what Pittsburgh has had to do the last 5-6 years, with some injuries to their big stars. You have guys who learn to play a certain way when those guys are out and then you realize you can keep playing that way once they’re back.”
So the Islanders will try to get to the playoffs with Thomas Hickey at left wing, with rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang driving the offense, with rookie defensemen Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield playing regular roles and Jaroslav Halak, the forgotten man in the middle of this season during his three-month AHL exile, leading the way in goal as he’ll get his fifth straight start on Saturday.
“You can’t be a 10-goal scorer and start trying to make plays like a 20-goal scorer,” Weight said. “What you need is simpler, harder, smarter. We’ve been simple and it’s been a big boost.”