Now that the battle of New York is behind the Islanders, the real battle continues.
That's the not so small consolation prize after Saturday night's 1-0 overtime loss to the Rangers. The Islanders not only still are alive in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they are vibrant. With six games to go, they hold their postseason destiny in their own hands, beginning with Tuesday's visit by the last-place Panthers.
"We've got to keep our eyes on the prize here," Andrew MacDonald said Saturday night, sitting in a locker room that had plenty of unhappy faces but not defeated ones. "We've done some really good things here the last few weeks, and we did some tonight as well, we just didn't get the result we wanted. The goal is a playoff berth, and that's still something that's within reach."
That's because Saturday's loss at Nassau Coliseum was only the third game in the last 11 in which the Islanders failed to get two points. But the Islanders were the better team for long stretches of the thriller, foiled only by a couple of bad bounces and Henrik Lundqvist's superb performance.
The road ahead after Tuesday is a true road endeavor, with the Islanders finishing the regular season with five away games against teams below them in the standings, including a Saturday visit to Winnipeg, the team that sits in ninth, three points behind the Islanders.
The Rangers are a point behind the Islanders with a game in hand, and the Senators are a point ahead of the Isles with a game in hand. Ottawa has the toughest remaining schedule of the teams in the Islanders' vicinity, so sixth is very much in the equation.
So there is plenty to pay attention to and plenty to distract from the disappointment of Saturday's loss in what was the best atmosphere and perhaps was the best-played game at the Coliseum in the last half-dozen seasons.
"We've got to move on. It's over," Jack Capuano said barely a half-hour after the game. He gave his players Sunday off, and the Isles will return to practice Monday to begin the stretch run.
"We just have to continue to build off the way we've been playing," Capuano said. "We know how we have to play to be successful."