Zach Parise spent his first seven NHL seasons with the perennially playoff-bound Devils while the Islanders made the playoffs just once from 2006-12. Now an Islander with the team chasing a playoff spot, Parise has long remembered a lesson learned about late-season games against clubs not headed to the postseason.
“We’d come in and play the Islanders at the end of the year and they were out of it and have a lot of guys up from Bridgeport,” Parise told Newsday. “You’d look at the board and be like, ‘Ah, it’s going to be OK.’ And all of sudden you get hit every time you touch the puck and you lose the game 4-1. Like, ‘What the heck just happened?’
“So you’ve got to be careful that you don’t allow that to happen and we do what makes us a good team.”
The Islanders faced the Flyers on Saturday night at UBS Arena and finish the season with a road game against the Capitals on Monday night and hosting the Canadiens on Wednesday night. The Flyers and Canadiens have long been out of the playoff picture and the Capitals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2014.
“Philadelphia is a team that comes hard no matter what,” coach Lane Lambert said. “They have guys that are playing for various number of different reasons. We know we have to win this game.”
Victories against all three teams would clinch a playoff berth for the Islanders. Otherwise, they’ll be looking for help from teams playing the Panthers and Penguins.
“It presents a different challenge than teams that you’re essentially fighting for position with because, essentially, there’s nothing for them to lose in the immediate,” Cal Clutterbuck said of playing non-playoff contenders this late in the season. “A lot of times they come playing tension-free hockey and they can make plays. They’re not really worried about the consequence. So that can be difficult.”
The Islanders lost twice to the Capitals in March, though Alex Ovechkin and Co. were still in the playoff chase at that point.
And the Islanders, despite a solid 8-3-1 record last month, had a couple of other bad stumbles. They lost 5-4 in overtime to the host Blue Jackets — who could finish last overall in the NHL — on March 24 then returned to UBS Arena the next night for a 2-0 loss to the Sabres. To be fair, the Sabres are still technically alive for a playoff spot after Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Hurricanes.
Overall, the Islanders entered Saturday with a 24-12-5 mark against teams not holding a playoff position at the start of the day’s play.
“It’s definitely not easy,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “In the position we are, things are a little more magnified. Pressure is a little more, if you want to say it. On the other end, you’re kind of playing free, you’re not too worried about making mistakes. We’ve just got to focus on playing our game. I think if we get to our game and dictate the terms out there, we’ll be fine.”
These Islanders also know being on the flip side.
Last season, as they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2018, 12 of their final 14 games were against opponents headed to the postseason. The Islanders went 4-7-1 in that stretch.
“Last year was a tough year,” Dobson said. “Philly is a divisional rival. I’m sure, in their heads, they want to make sure that we don’t get in the playoffs so they want to do their jobs. You kind of go at it with games like that.”