Now comes the first-place showdown.
The Islanders, coming off one of their most complete, 60-minute efforts, open a three-game series against the Capitals on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum. It will go a long way toward determining whether the Islanders, 19-2-2 at the Coliseum, can secure home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
"You have to find a way to turn the page quickly, whether you have a good one or a bad one," Josh Bailey said after scoring two goals and adding an assist in Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the visiting Rangers. "When you have a good one, you try to ride that wave forward and keep that confidence and we’ll look to do that. It’s not going to be easy. Washington and us have had some tough games this year and, I’m sure, Thursday will be no different."
The Capitals have won three of the first five, but the Islanders won the last meeting, 1-0, at the Coliseum on April 6 as Bailey set up Brock Nelson’s third-period goal. Semyon Varlamov, who made 25 saves on Tuesday, stopped all 29 shots that night for his fourth shutout.
The Capitals and Islanders, who also play Saturday at the Coliseum and Tuesday in Washington, are tied atop the East Division with 62 points. Both have 10 regular-season games remaining, and the Capitals have the edge in two tie-breakers, with three more regulation wins and two more regulation or overtime wins.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that either the Islanders or Capitals will finish first.
The top four teams in the division qualify for the playoffs and the Islanders, who did not practice on Wednesday, are now 10 points ahead of the fifth-place Rangers.
But the third-place Penguins, who also have 10 games left, are just one point behind and play two more against the struggling Devils at home after giving up six third-period goals but winning, 7-6, on Tuesday.
The fourth-place Bruins, who have played two fewer games, are four points behind the Capitals and Islanders and play their next two against the last-place Sabres.
The Islanders, though, can only worry about their own performance. They had a very strong one on Tuesday, with a focused attack on the Rangers’ crease and a cohesive defensive effort.
Both were largely missing during a 1-2 road trip in which they scored just two goals.
"They don’t always come easy, especially at this time when everybody is trying to make a push to make the playoffs and we’re trying to keep our spot," Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. "We dug through the adversity."
Pageau added a goal and an assist on Tuesday and Anthony Beauvillier, the third member of the line with Bailey, matched his career high for points with a goal and three assists.
"It’s always fun to play with Bails, he’s such a smart guy out there," Beauvillier said. "Pager is predictable as well. I thought it was a good combination."
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