Anders Lee #27 of the Islanders celebrates his first goal of...

Anders Lee #27 of the Islanders celebrates his first goal of the third period against the Detroit Red Wings with his teammates at UBS Arena on Saturday, Mar. 4, 2023 in Elmont, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

To win three, the Islanders have to start by winning one.

This is a crucial head-to-head week for the Islanders’ playoff push as they face the Sabres on Tuesday night at UBS Arena, visit the Penguins on Thursday night and host the Capitals on Saturday night with all three in a tight, seven-team pack of teams vying for the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.

The Islanders, who entered Tuesday holding the first wild-card spot, are at a disadvantage in having played more games than any of their rivals. Which means they can ill afford any slips in play.

“It is a big week, we know that,” coach Lane Lambert said. “You can’t get ahead of yourselves in any way, shape or form.”

“We know the importance of the last 25 games we’ve had to close it out here, to make a push and put ourselves in position,” captain Anders Lee said. “That doesn’t change with who’s coming into town. We’re going for the same spots, these three teams here, so it’s big games. It’s exciting.”

Including Tuesday, the Islanders had 17 games remaining and probably need to earn 22-24 more points to feel comfortable about qualifying for the postseason. Maybe 20 more points will suffice.

They have been consistent of late in collecting points, entering Tuesday with a 5-2-3 mark since Feb. 11 and coming off a dominant 4-1 win over the Red Wings last Saturday when they scored four times in the third period.

The Islanders had held their opponents to eight goals in their previous six games entering Tuesday. They also outscored their opponents 13-0 in the third period over their previous eight games, scoring at least one third-period goal in seven.

“It’s hard to explain that,” Lambert said. “Even the Detroit game, I thought nothing changed in the third period in terms of how we were playing. We played very well. We played well in the first and second. Pucks just didn’t go in the net. But it’s a good question and one that I think it’s just a matter of what we’ve done. We’ve continued to stick with it and play the right way and eventually we break through.”

The NHL truism or cliché — take your pick — is that it’s imperative for teams to be playing their best hockey at this time of the season.

The Islanders have certainly reversed course after an ugly 2-8-3 stretch from Jan. 1-25.

In doing so, they’ve given themselves a chance to somewhat control their own playoff fate as they face the teams they’re trying to beat out for a postseason berth.

The Sabres also visit UBS Arena on March 25 and, after Saturday, the Islanders face the Capitals twice more in Washington. The Islanders can sweep the four-game season series against the Penguins on Thursday.

“We knew we were going to have the opportunity to do so,” Matt Martin said. “You look at our schedule and we knew we had a lot of matchups, really going back to the Pittsburgh games. So they’re important games all week but we have to take them one at a time. Buffalo is obviously playing good hockey.”

The Islanders actually had a productive Monday without playing as the Sabres lost, 3-2, to the visiting Oilers, and the Senators and Capitals also lost in regulation.

“All the games at this time of the year are important for everyone,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “We know where we’re at in the standings and where the teams we’re playing are at. They’re big games, big points. But they’re all big at this time of the year.”

More Islanders

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months