The Islanders may enter these NHL playoffs battered, bruised and tired, but at the very least they’ll be prepared.
With the countdown to the playoffs in full effect, the Islanders got a bit of good news on the injury front Friday — defenseman Johnny Boychuk is on the mend and goalie Robin Lehner is expected to play soon — but they’re also dealing with the reality of their upcoming schedule. There are 12 games left in the season, eight of them on the road and eight against potential playoff teams. Rest isn’t too much of an option.
They’re still trying to wrest first place in the Metropolitan Division from the Capitals, whom they will face in their regular-season finale. The Isles will kick off this stretch with a back-to-back on the road on Saturday against the Red Wings, who have been eliminated, and Sunday against the Wild, who are in the hunt for a Western Conference wild-card spot.
“That’s tough, but this time of the year . . . it doesn’t really matter how you’re feeling or if you’re sore or whatever or if you’re tired,” said Mathew Barzal, who assisted on the winning goal Thursday against Montreal. “You kinda just gotta go out there and lace them up and give it 100 percent, because it’s a crucial time of the year.”
Though the Islanders’ defense continues to be one of the best in the league — their 2.34 goals-against average tops the NHL — they’re 20th in goals per game.
The top line hasn’t contributed much lately. Jordan Eberle hasn’t scored since Feb. 9 and Barzal hasn’t had a goal since Feb. 16. But coach Barry Trotz said he sees the chemistry starting to work in their favor. Barzal’s assist on Anders Lee’s goal on Thursday was masterful in its execution, and an indication of a line that could get hot at the right time.
“They are creating,” Trotz said. “They’ve been fine on both sides of the puck, which is good. So they’re getting a little chemistry, and they got a huge goal last night, and it all started in our own end, not drifting, Barzy held position. And then he jumped, I think it was [Max] Domi at that time, and then he made a great play. Just the connection between the offense and defense got us a winning goal.”
When the Islanders are winning, they’re making teams play their style of hockey. Barzal said he thinks it’s sustainable and something that can work in the playoffs.
“I think in the playoffs, you need to be able to defend,” he said. “You don’t really want to get into a track meet. You want to make it tight. You’ve got to play a sound game, wait for mistakes throughout the game and take advantage . . . I think if the time comes, we’ll be ready. We can play with anyone — we’ve proven that — and our style kind of does well against a lot of teams, so I like our chances.”
Notes & quotes: Boychuk, who has a suspected left shoulder injury, skated as an extra in Friday’s practice and will travel with the team, Trotz said. He added that it’s possible that Boychuk will play this weekend . . . Lehner, who was put on concussion protocol after the Senators’ Brady Tkachuk steamrolled him on March 5, practiced and likely will be ready for the weekend, Trotz said. He added that Lehner likely will play at least one of the two games as long as the trainers give their OK . . . Casey Cizikas, who suffered an illness last week, had a maintenance day.