The text arrived from the Islanders’ media relations office shortly after midnight, informing those who follow the team of the seemingly obvious: “Islanders Tomorrow: Day off,” it read.
No one would begrudge them a free Sunday after a franchise-record nine consecutive road games in four time zones over about three weeks.
But that is history now, in the books as a 5-3-1 stretch that neither separated nor disqualified them in a tight race for the second and final Eastern Conference wild-card playoff berth.
After Saturday night’s 4-3 loss to the Blues they have 75 points, one fewer than the Maple Leafs, with 15 games remaining for both.
“I think all we can do is just keep trucking forward; we’re still in a good spot,” John Tavares said in the losing locker room in St. Louis. “I think obviously we’ll be excited to be back home Monday in front of our fans.”
That will be against the Hurricanes — their first game at Barclays Center since Feb. 19 — before the Isles hit the road again for a rematch in Raleigh the next night.
But still, a stretch of relative schedule normalcy beckons. Of their final 15 games, seven are at home, where the Islanders are 9-0-2 in their last 11 and have not lost in regulation time since Jan. 11.
They will leave the Eastern Time Zone only once more — and barely, to Nashville, Tennessee, on April 4 against the Predators.
The Islanders have had a complex relationship with their relatively new home in Brooklyn, but it should look better than ever this week, as will their actual homes.
Tavares said all concerned looked forward to “being back in your own beds, getting some home-cooked meals. I think everyone being around their families will be a good way to recharge and get excited about the week ahead here.”
The Islanders currently have a tiebreaker edge over the Leafs, because they have more regulation and overtime wins. But there are standings twists and turns to come. The Lightning looms with 73 points.
The idea is to maintain the positive trajectory since coach Doug Weight was installed. Every fan — as well as ownership, management, coaches and players — would have signed up two months ago to be in this position today.
One interesting thing to watch this week will be whether Weight continues to rely on Thomas Greiss in goal or gives J-F Berube a start for one of the back-to-backs against the Hurricanes.
Greiss started all nine games on the road swing but was yanked in-game thrice, including Saturday. He insisted he does not let that sort of thing bother him, trusting the coach’s decisions.
After the frustrating loss to the Blues, the Islanders tried to make the best of the big picture.
“You have to,” Weight said. “Moving forward, you have to wash your memory. It was 5-3-1 against some formidable opponents. We’ll take it, but it’s disappointing.”
Weight lamented when he took the job what a poor road team the Islanders were to that point, a trend that appears to be over, or so they hope.
“We’ve gained some confidence on the road as a team,” he said. “I think playing on the road, the style we have to play, we’ve played a lot of different teams with different elements.”
Weight said managing his time efficiently was a valuable coaching lesson of life on a long trip. “It’s like going to college again,” he said.
But as a Western Conference player in St. Louis and Edmonton he had plenty of experience with the kinds of road odysseys less common for Eastern teams.
“I had good practice here and in Edmonton when we were flying commercial for nine years,” he said, adding sarcastically, “those are good memories. Middle seats.”
The Islanders fly charters, but they were looking forward to not flying anywhere for once.
“These trips are always good for bringing guys together, spending a lot of time with one another,” Tavares said before Saturday’s game.
Then he added a wish for Sunday that “hopefully we don’t see each other for at least a day.”