The Islanders' Mathew Barzal controls the puck while under pressure from...

The Islanders' Mathew Barzal controls the puck while under pressure from the Blues' Jake Neighbours during the first period of an NHL game Thursday in St. Louis. Credit: AP/Scott Kane

That the Islanders still are within striking distance of a playoff spot despite their dually debilitating penchants for self-inflicted wounds and inconsistent play is solely the result of commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL’s desire to raise the number of teams competing for a berth by lowering the common denominator of mediocrity in a salary-cap system.

Parity sells, and the Islanders still can benefit this season.

They enter Saturday’s matinee against the Lightning at UBS Arena with a 23-19-14 mark and are five points behind the visitors for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

Read another way, the Islanders have lost 33 of their 56 games, which, realistically, should keep them far, far away from the postseason. After all, these are not the days when 16 of 21 teams qualified and the woebegone Colorado Rockies could earn an invite in 1978 with a 19-40-21 record, when ties, not overtime losses, earned one point.

But the COVID-19 pandemic stagnated the salary-cap ceiling, which has risen only $2 million over four seasons, keeping good teams from remaining so even more. The Islanders, who have won two in a row only once since mid-December, are in a group of seven teams in the conference within nine points.

There might not be a great team in the conference, even with the Rangers — who have depth issues — on a nine-game winning streak.

The Islanders know that all they have to do is get in the playoffs, even if, like last season, they have to scramble until the regular-season finale to do so.

“The hope and the belief is in this room,” captain Anders Lee said after Thursday’s 4-0 loss in St. Louis in which the Blues scored three goals in a franchise-record 32 seconds in the second period. “We have it. We’re not getting the results right now. We’re kicking ourselves in the foot a little bit. That’s why we’re not getting the wins we need.

“Start weeding out some of these mistakes that are really hurting us, we’re going to put a run together. We know we’re on the outside looking in, but we believe that we can go into this thing and put ourselves in a position to play in the playoffs.”

Again, the somewhat crazy thing is Lee is absolutely correct.

Which is why president and general manager Lou Lamoriello almost certainly will look to add, not subtract, by the March 8 NHL trade deadline.

“We’re in parity,” Lamoriello said. “It’s not like it was in the past. That’s the game today. All you have to do is look at the scores each and every night. Look at the standings right now. Except for a handful of teams, anybody can beat anybody. That’s what the new CBA has brought.”

It’s what’s keeping this Islanders season interesting.

Notes & quotes: Forward Hudson Fasching (long-term injured reserve, lower body) and rookie defenseman Samuel Bolduc, a healthy scratch the last seven games and in 13 of the last 17, were sent to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport for conditioning assignments.

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