The Islanders finished their three-week stretch of difficult opponents in pretty rough shape, winning only twice in nine games -- and one of those wins was against the Devils, the lone game against a non-playoff contender.
But the Islanders (45-27-5) played well enough through their first 68 games to withstand this dip in the standings, and after pulling out a wild 5-4 win over the Red Wings on Sunday, they are sitting eight points clear of the playoff cut line. They are tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division with the Penguins, who have a game in hand.
Although a trip to the postseason promises difficult games, the Isles' remaining five in the regular season likely won't be as frustrating as the previous nine.
"It's just about getting as many points as you can," Nick Leddy said after Sunday's win. "We'll take the two points [Sunday], get back to work on Tuesday and start to work on tightening some things up."
The Islanders, who had Monday off, don't play again until a visit to Columbus on Thursday, one of two games against the lottery-bound Blue Jackets in the final five this regular season. Columbus is no pushover, though: It has won six straight despite being only mathematically alive for the postseason.
The Isles host the Sabres on Saturday, then visit the Flyers next Tuesday before a game that could have quite an impact on where the Islanders open the postseason. They will face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on April 10, a night before the Coliseum regular-season finale against the Blue Jackets.
The sky may have fallen in the eyes of some observers since Rick Nash's accidental game-winner took down the Islanders on March 10, a 2-1 Rangers win that started the Isles' slump. But only frustration has emanated from the locker room, not capitulation. After totaling only 12 goals in the previous eight games, the Isles broke out Sunday.
"Any time you're in a bit of a rut like we were, to get rewarded for your effort is the biggest thing," coach Jack Capuano said. "It's not like we were playing poorly."
The Senators play the Red Wings Tuesday night and the Lightning on Thursday, which means the Islanders could clinch a playoff berth by the end of the night Thursday with a win in Ohio. Two more points will give the Isles 97, which would be their best 82-game season since 1983-84.
"Forty-five wins this time of year is pretty good," Capuano said.
There haven't been many wins the past 20 days, but the team is still in good shape.