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Final Tuneup

by Greg Picker / New York Islanders

Thursday night’s 2-1 loss in Philadelphia marked the first time the Islanders didn’t earn at least one point during the entire month of April. Battling hard, but falling in 60 minutes may have been a tough pill to swallow for a team that was trying to ride the momentum of clinching a playoff berth, but the Isles are using the loss for motivation, reminding them that wins won’t come easily in postseason play.

The difficulty of an extended five-game road-trip late in the season will only help the Isles focus on the task at hand. Head Coach Jack Capuano contends that Thursday’s blip might help his squad.

“We faced a little bit of pressure and some adversity, which is good,” Capuano said at Friday’s morning skate in Buffalo.

With 47 games down, only one regular-season contest remains. Buffalo is the third consecutive non-playoff opponent for the Islanders. That does nothing to change Capuano’s mindset.

“We prepare and approach it like any other game,” Capuano said. “I know the guys want to get back to playing the way we want to play. We just have to make sure we play our style.”

That style of play is what led the Islanders to an 8-0-3 record in their 11 games prior to the loss against Philadelphia. More importantly, that style carried the Islanders to their first playoff berth since 2007.

Islanders forward Frans Nielsen implied that the disappointing loss in Philadelphia may have been due to a letdown following the clinch. He remains confident though that the team’s approach will be rectified for Friday’s game.

“With everything on the line this past month and so many must win games, I don’t know if mentally some of us were just not completely there for the first time,” Nielsen said. “You want to go into the playoffs with a good feeling, so we have to get back on track tonight.”

Against Philadelphia, Nielsen and linemates Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey were kept off the score sheet for the first time in five games. Throughout the last two months, they’ve been talked about as one of the best second lines in the NHL. Correcting a few mistakes from Philadelphia and a win in Buffalo would go a long way into building confidence against any opponent the Isles will see in the first round.

“There are a few things we want to clean up and fix system-wise, so we have a great feeling going into the playoffs,” Nielsen said.

Forward Matt Moulson also sees Friday night’s game as an opportunity to build momentum as the Isles head into the postseason.

“I think our focus has been on securing a spot in the playoffs and making sure we’re playing how we want to play going into them,” the Isles’ assists leader said. “Tonight’s another night where we can bounce back and get back to our game.”

When asked if the loss against the Flyers could be a possible spark to get things going again, he added:

“I hope so. We better realize quickly how we have to play in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, it’s going to be an intense series.”

After splitting the first two matchups this season, Islanders look to take the season series from the Sabres. Every team wants to go into the postseason playing their best hockey. A win against Buffalo could be just what the Isles need to ride the wave into the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

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