The Islanders came to the rink on Wednesday back in control of their playoff fate. But, oh, what a Tuesday it was for them.
They returned home from Washington just around midnight understandably upset after a 5-2 loss to the Capitals cost them control of their own destiny and instead left them needing help from lottery-bound Chicago against the Penguins.
“To lose that control stinks,” Hudson Fasching said. “So you’re kind of down all day. Pittsburgh was heavily favored in the game so you’re thinking the odds aren’t great.”
But help came that night as the Penguins lost on home ice, 5-2, meaning the Islanders just needed one point against the out-of-contention Canadiens on Wednesday night at UBS Arena to clinch a playoff berth.
“We’re extremely grateful to have that control back in our hands,” Matt Martin said. “It’s a tough league and anybody can beat anybody on any given night. We’re fortunate that that night was last night.”
“Everyone was disappointed,” Brock Nelson said. “That one hurt knowing we had it semi under control of being in the playoffs. Getting it back after last night, it’s a big swing of emotions.”
The Islanders advanced to the NHL final four in both 2020 and 2021 only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning both times. They missed the playoffs last season – leading to coach Barry Trotz’s dismissal in favor of Lane Lambert – with a schedule heavily impacted because of COVID-19 outbreaks and to accommodate the completion of construction at UBS Arena.
President/general manager Lou Lamoriello opted to keep his core group of players intact for this season, believing last season’s playoff miss was more a function of circumstance than a sign that his team was in decline.
Just making the playoffs won’t necessarily prove Lamoriello correct. But it would be a start.
Especially after the team struggled through a 4-8-3 January and were six points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 26.
“I don’t know if it would be looked at as an accomplishment,” Nelson said. “I think it would just be a combination of a lot of different things. Maybe we weren’t in a great spot. Last year wasn’t great. But we’re also not that far removed from having a couple of close runs where we went on some long playoff streaks and made some memories. That’s what you play for."
Nelson said he wound up watching most of the first and third periods of the Penguins-Chicago game.
Others were locked in, like Fasching, who made it point to watch the whole game.
“I don’t watch too many other NHL games throughout the year,” Fasching said. “My wife and I sat down and threw it on. We kind of got hooked into it. We were invested.”
Others chose not to watch, like Lambert, who instead watched the movie “American Hustle” downstairs while his wife watched the game upstairs and issued updates to him.
“I’ve said from Day 1 here that we just have to focus on our game and whatever happens, happens,” Lambert said. “That was my thought process.”
Others eventually gravitated to the game.
“I honestly didn’t tune into that one but I was checking the score periodically,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “I saw it was 1-1 in the third and I ended up turning it on. I caught the second half of the third period.
“It’s an opportunity where, yesterday in the morning you wake up and it’s like, ‘Oh.’ You’re lowdown. To see that gives you a little energy in life. It gives us an opportunity to play a good game and control our fate.”