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Isles don't plan on coasting before playoffs

John Tavares celebrates his third-period empty net goal

John Tavares celebrates his third-period empty net goal against the Winnipeg Jets with teammates Matt Moulson #26 and Brad Boyes #24 at Nassau Coliseum. (April 2, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

PHILADELPHIA - They're in. Now what?

The Islanders finally clambered over a giant obstacle by reaching the playoffs with Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Hurricanes, combined with the Jets' 5-3 loss to the Caps.

But there are still many, many scenarios to play out over the Isles' final two regular-season games, beginning Thursday night against the Flyers. The Islanders could finish as high as fifth in the East with wins in their final two games and some help to knock the Leafs down a seed; the Isles could go as low as eighth with no points in these last two and victories by both the Senators and Rangers in their final games.

So the Isles have achieved one goal. But they are clear that it's not the only goal.

"Step one is accomplished, and it's great to finally achieve that,'' John Tavares said. "Now the focus has to be on going back to work, getting ourselves a good seed and bringing our best.''

Jack Capuano has some decisions to make as well, with the game here Thursday night and one in Buffalo Friday. The Isles' 11-1-3 run the past 15 games has had precious few lineup changes, and Evgeni Nabokov has started all but one of those games in net.

Capuano wouldn't reveal his plans in net, but it's fairly certain that Nabokov and Kevin Poulin will each start a game of the remaining two. Nabokov has played only one set of back-to-back games this season and the Isles cannot risk anything going wrong with Nabokov heading into next week.

Other than adding some muscle with forward Eric Boulton and/or defenseman Matt Carkner against the aggressive Flyers and Sabres lineups, Capuano said his skaters won't change much.

"It's important we stay sharp. There's too much at stake the next six periods,'' he said. "I had good meetings with our captains and we all understand a lot can happen these next few days.''

There is also the small matter of the Isles' play not being quite as sharp the last three games as it had been the first dozen of this run. After allowing only 18 goals in a 12-game stretch, the Isles have surrendered 10 in the last three games, and there were a few too many breakdowns for the coaches' liking on Tuesday in Raleigh.

The Isles' special teams have faltered a bit as well. The power play, on a 4-for-13 run during an eight-game stretch, is 1-for-12 in the last three games; strange that it has gotten far more chances but squandered too many of them lately.

"There's definitely some areas we need to work on,'' Capuano said. "And we need our best guys in there to work on them.''

One of the keys to this second-half surge by the Islanders was their ability to shut out the outside talk -- whether it was doubters or the quality of their opponent -- and keep the focus on their own play.

With two games left against teams already eliminated from the playoff race and playing a bit freer with that burden gone, the Islanders have to remind themselves of what got them here.

"We all know we have to be ready to work [tonight],'' Matt Martin said. "Now's the time to step on the gas pedal harder rather than pull back.''

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