Coming off the most highly-anticipated game of the season, a playoff-like thriller against the cross-town-rival New York Rangers, the New York Islanders find themselves tasked with maintaining their energy level and focus Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.
Thirteen-hundred miles and 15 standings points separate the Islanders from Tuesday’s opponent, but the two points at stake in the Islanders’ final home game are just as critical to the playoff picture as those awarded Saturday.
“It’s such a big game and every point is crucial,” Streit said Monday. “We need a win and they’re a hard-working team. We have to be ready and we’ve got to play 100%. We have to bring exactly the same intensity as we have in every game recently.”
It’s easy for players to get excited for a rivalry game, especially with so much on the line late in the regular season. This season the Islanders have proven themselves capable of avoiding a post-Rangers let down, going 2-1-0 in the matchups immediately following Rangers games. In their only post-Rangers loss this season, the Isles outshot Buffalo 43-15 in a 3-2 defeat on February 9.
“I think we’ve set a standard and I think we hold ourselves accountable inside this dressing room more than anything else,” Hamonic said, coming off a performance in which he stymied Rangers’ leading scorer Rick Nash. “Good teams have that standard, that work ethic, and that game plan, game-in and game-out and that’s the most important thing.”
The game plan has translated most notably on defense during the team’s playoff push. The Islanders are 8-1-2 in the last 11 games and have allowed just 15 regulation goals in that stretch (1.36 goals per game). They’ve allowed just one goal in each of their last three games and conceded two or fewer in eight consecutive contests.
With six games remaining in the regular season, Head Coach Jack Capuano believes it’s less about the X’s and O’s and more about the determination level that the team brings to the rink every night.
“At this time of the year, the teams that work the hardest win hockey games,” Capuano said. “It’s not structure and it’s not systems. Goaltending and special teams are a big part of it, but it’s how you play and how you battle.”
Perhaps bolstering the team’s battle level, two of the last three home games have been sell outs. With Tuesday night marking the final home game of the regular season, leading scorer John Tavares knows how much the team can count on the fans for an extra boost.
“You could see the last few nights the energy, the intensity level and the passion they have and the way we’ve fed off that,” Tavares said. “It’s our final home game. We have to take advantage of that and we want to finish the year at home on a good note, sending a good message to our fans.”
The playoff push continues Tuesday night in what will be another raucous environment at the “Old Barn on Hempstead Turnpike.” Hopefully for the Islanders and their fans, it will only be a short two-week hiatus until the next home game.